Twice a year, the Athenian art world converges in a grand mansion on Amalias Street to view magnificent pieces of art – Moralis, Tsarouchis, Chryssa, Parthenis, Volanakis, Rallis, Takis – a broad representation of major Greek artists from the second half of the 19th century through the vanguard of contemporary art. It’s like a pop-up museum, an opportunity to see significant pieces that have been largely out of the public eye. Except, unlike the staid atmosphere of a museum, the rooms are humming with energy – connoisseurship and appreciation heightened with dynamic, acquisitive excitement.
This is the preview of the Greek Sale, an international auction of fine modern Greek art that’s now entering its third decade amid rising prestige, both at home and worldwide. The works will be on display for several days before being shipped to Paris for a second preview. Then the sale itself: the recent move from Bonhams in London to the Paris branch, in response to Brexit, has charged the sale with fresh energy: apart from France’s role as a center of culture, there’s the exceptional mutual affinity between Greece and France, beginning historically with France’s support of Greek independence, followed by centuries of cultural dialogue. Many Greek artists have lived and worked in France, and France has served as a refuge for Greek artists in times when freedom of expression has been challenged. Appearing in the Greek sale in Paris, many of the works are in essence coming home. The French know and love Greek art, and welcome it warmly.
While the Greek Sale is held by the international auction house Bonhams, the rich selection – generally between 100 and 120 pieces – is sourced and curated locally by Art Expertise. Director Terpsichore Angelopoulou together with Philippe-Stratis Glyptis have been at the nexus of the Greek art scene since the early 1990s, cultivating a strong and ever increasing interest in modern Greek art, both in Greece and internationally. Originally part of the Athens team of the auction house Christie’s, they formed Art Expertise when Christie’s ceased its Athens’ operations and their Greek clients besieged them to continue; a collaboration with Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers soon followed. Engaging in decades of valuations has given them a singular overview of Greek works in private circulation. This depth of experience enables them to contribute to a cohesive narrative around Greek art, enhancing scholarly inquiry as well as the visibility and reputation of Greek art as a whole. They regularly collaborate with institutions, establishing comprehensive catalogues and sourcing key works for exhibitions. Additionally, they offer guidance in developing private collections.
Fine Art is often associated exclusively with the museum experience – enriching, yet fleeting. Cultivating a deeper, more intimate relationship to art through acquiring and living with works by established, internationally recognized artists is surprisingly attainable.
Why buy Greek art specifically, and why now?
There are several factors contributing to the excitement around Greek art for both local and international collectors. For one, with relatively few major public institutions featuring Greek art, there’s a generous reservoir of excellent pieces in circulation. Another is the broad spectrum of significant works; Greek artists have made substantial contributions to all modern movements, from the masters of the Munich School of the second half of the 19th century, through the vanguard of contemporary art – abstraction, pop, arte povera, and conceptual art, and they continue to do so on the contemporary scene.
Additionally, because the market for Greek art is still expanding and developing, these established artists with strong museum presence and equally strong market performance are balanced with artists just now being rediscovered, offering great potential for both the investor and the enthusiast who treasures a discovery.
Philippe Glyptis suggests prospective collectors begin by developing a closer relationship with Greek art, visiting museums and exhibitions and allowing a connection to a movement, to a specific artist or to several, to emerge. If a work in an upcoming Greek Sale is of interest, Art Expertise can provide greater detail to the prospective bidder. Auctions, apart from being an exciting way to acquire art, potentially offer yet another advantage: while bidding sometimes raises a piece to a much higher price than that of a gallery, auction house starting prices are traditionally lower, which can translate to a very good purchase.
Each sale encompasses a broad representation of movements, as well as a great range of estimates: major pieces can reach the mid six-figures, raising the international profile of Greek art overall. Meanwhile, smaller pieces by established Greek artists can be thrillingly accessible. Highlights of the May 2022 sale include an outstanding work by Moralis (estimate 300,000-500,000), a Lytras (220,000-280,000), and a Parthenis (150,000-200,000). There are also some compelling pieces by major artists with estimates beginning under 5,000. These include an icon by the profoundly influential modern Byzantine master Kontoglou, a classic wooden cut-out of Gaitis from his most characteristic era (those men in bowler hats), a set of two small Zongolopoulos (of the “Umbrellas” of Thessaloniki) sculptures, and an immediately recognizable and completely enchanting Tsarouchis watercolor.
There’s been a lot of global excitement around investing in art lately, Greek Art included; the world has been uncertain on pretty much every level, the traditional financial markets too, prompting some investors to turn to tangible assets. But that alone doesn’t justify the surge in excitement; as an asset that nourishes the spirit, art can be a meaningful investment in turbulent times.