Why Artists are Flocking to Athens – and You Should Too

Why Artists are Flocking to Athens – and You Should Too

documenta 14 was held in Athens in 2017, the city has
established itself as a European hub for artists. Often, I attend
up to three exhibition openings in a night – in Athens, that’s not
so much a feat as an inevitability.

On a Thursday night, galleries overflow with young, well-dressed
Athenians who spill out into the street sipping cans of Fix and
smoking roll-ups. The first opening of the night is always hard to
leave – after the art, you’ll quickly get drawn into a conversation
and settle down on a balmy rooftop with a cold beer. But there is
always another one. Artists are being lured to the city from all
over Greece, and indeed, the world. Thanks to cheap rents, good
weather and a lively political scene, openings are on a steady

“It’s probably one of the few nooks in Europe where there’s some
authenticity left,” say Zacharias Petrakis and Alejandro Hernandez
Baskon, founders of the Zacharias Crafts studio and store in
central Exarcheia. Silk-screen printing leather accessories and
clothing, the studio – all neon signage and industrial finishes –
opened a few months ago as a multifunctional space allowing the
artists to create and sell their work in one place. “Exarcheia is
the area of Athens where subculture happens. There’s a freedom to
explore here”, say the duo, who were drawn to the city by the low
rent and buzzy vibe.

From not-for-profit galleries like CheapArtAthens to
independent, grassroots studios such as 3 137 and well-established
commercial galleries like The Breeder, the art scene is undeniably
thriving. Brit-born Hugo Wheeler moved here from London to set up
Hot Wheels Gallery, an art space in a neoclassical building that
supports local creatives. “It was derelict for a few years, and it
was a sex shop before that,” he tells me of the grand,
high-ceilinged structure built in the early 1900s. It now hosts an
ever-rotating roster of exhibitions – at the last opening, I
couldn’t move for people.

From a practical perspective, Athens is one of the last European
capitals to remain affordable, providing an ideal place to live and
work as an artist. The economic crisis has hit the country hard but
this has, at least, brought the cost of living right down. “It’s an
accessible and attainable city that almost feels external to Europe
in its atmosphere,” says British artist David Fenwick (main image),
who also moved to Athens from London to open a studio here.
“There’s a palpable sense of freedom that’s conducive to

That sense of freedom is sprayed all over Athens’ walls. The
street-art scene is also very much alive here; not an inch of space
goes untagged. It’s a visual bombardment and takes some getting
used to – especially on the neoclassical builds with pretty
wrought-iron balconies – but graffiti artists from all over come to
pay homage to the graff capital. “Graffiti artists come on holiday
here from all over Europe,” says Cacao Rocks, Athens’ most
commercially successful street artist. “The weather’s great all
year round and the city offers an interesting collision between
East and West.”

At an opening, Notes at Alibi, last week I spoke to exhibiting
artist Naya Magaliou, an Athenian now living in Helsinki. “Athens
is a very inspiring city,” she says of her choice to exhibit here
and take part in Art Athina this summer. “It has so many waves of
history and they’re all present at the same time – the energy in
the city centre is very special.”

In the shadow of the Acropolis, Athens’ streets are being paved
with a new cultural identity. Fresh ideas are daubed over the tired
exteriors of abandoned building and studios are emerging in quiet
tree-lined neighbourhoods, offering pockets of culture in
unexpected places. For artists, Athens is not an ancient relic to
be marvelled at, but a very modern playground of possibility that
is constantly reinventing itself.

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