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Athens is a city epitomized by ancient buildings. Still, for centuries, more contemporary examples of Greek architecture and design have been all but absent from the international conversation. But with the city’s art scene on the uptick (most say it started when Documenta chose Athens as a sister location to its usual Kassel, Germany, in 2017) and the energizing presence of international design gallery Carwan, a small-but-mighty design scene is beginning to bubble up from beneath the surface—catching the eyes of locals and expats alike.
When Greek American art and design enthusiast Katerina Papanikolopoulos moved to Athens for a change of pace during the pandemic, she quickly began to detect those rumblings. But, as she recalls, “people told me there was no design in Athens.” She set out to prove them wrong, canvassing the city for partnerships, funding, and venues to help her assemble the area’s first-ever design event. “It’s not a design week,” she insists, of Athens Design Forum (ADF), which runs September 30 through October 7. “The format will always be more experimental.”
We’re chatting in a taxi en route to the Vorres Museum, a collector’s home turned museum just outside of Athens, where she has local architecture firm KN Group and artist-designer Stamos Michael to create a sort of folly in a garden filled with architectural fragments. It’s just one of 11 exceptionally curated insider-y events (though all are open to the public with an RSVP), which include house visits, open studios, installations, and exhibitions put on with presenting partner The Design Release. “I wanted to recreate the experience I had when I moved here,” Papanikolopoulos explains of the agenda, which mixes heavyweight Greek institutions like Benaki with young designers and established artists and architects. “I wanted people to meet the architect, speak to the architect, see how they live.”
She has big plans for ADF—more editions with the same experimental format, and, perhaps most ambitiously, an archive of traditional Greek craft. (“There is this misconception that Greece is like Pentelic marble and Parthenon,” Papanikolopoulos says. “I was interested in seeing the broader craft heritage—things from the 1600s, the medieval craft.”) Until then, here are a few of our favorite moments from the forum’s inaugural year.
Alekos Fassianos Estate
“He is inspired by the myth, the idea that everyone has his own myth,” says Mariza, wife of the contemporary Greek painter Alekos Fassianos. During the Athens Design Forum, she and her daughter, Viktoria, gave a tour of their art-filled family home in the Athenian suburb of Papagos. Among Fassianos’s many colorful, mythical paintings is a whole world of furniture and design objects he created for the place: vibrant ceramics, bird-shaped lights, mosaic faces in the floor, and a suite of custom furnishings—most of them never before seen.