Scholarly article on topic 'Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Greek Art in Primary and Secondary Markets: Some Observations'

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Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Adamopoulou Areti, Maro Psyrra

Abstract The collocation “Greek Art” in museum language and in the secondary market usually refers to antiquity and, less frequently, to byzantine art. But is there a market for more recent Greek art creations? On what basis is this market organized and to which public does it appeal? Historically seen, galleries in Greece specialized in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Greek production have operated since the 1930s and flourished after the 1950s, particularly in the 1980s, since Greece joined the European Community. It was at that time that a rather “stable” regional art market developed, in order to promote local artists. Modern and Contemporary Greek Art was a new, unexplored and profitable area for the world art market and, in the 1990s, well-established international auction houses began selling Greek artworks more consistently. What is the state-of-the-art in the Greek art market? Are there differences between the secondary market inside and outside Greece's national borders? How can these differences be explained? This paper aims at presenting the difficulties and peculiarities of an as yet underdeveloped and, at a high degree, idiosyncratic market.

Academic research paper on topic "Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Greek Art in Primary and Secondary Markets: Some Observations"


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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 148 (2014) 404 - 411

Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Greek Art in Primary and Secondary Markets: Some Observations

Adamopoulou Areti*, Maro Psyrra

Department of Fine Arts and of the Sciences of Art, University of Ioannina,45110 Ioannina, Greece


The collocation "Greek Art" in museum language and in the secondary market usually refers to antiquity and, less frequently, to byzantine art. But is there a market for more recent Greek art creations? On what basis is this market organized and to which public does it appeal? Historically seen, galleries in Greece specialized in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Greek production have operated since the 1930s and flourished after the 1950s, particularly in the 1980s, since Greece joined the European Community. It was at that time that a rather "stable" regional art market developed, in order to promote local artists. Modern and Contemporary Greek Art was a new, unexplored and profitable area for the world art market and, in the 1990s, well-established international auction houses began selling Greek artworks more consistently. What is the state-of-the-art in the Greek art market? Are there differences between the secondary market inside and outside Greece's national borders? How can these differences be explained? This paper aims at presenting the difficulties and peculiarities of an as yet underdeveloped and, at a high degree, idiosyncratic market.

© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.This is anopenaccessarticle under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the 2nd International Conference on Strategic Innovative Marketing.

Keywords: Greek art; galleries in Greece; Greek art market; prices for Greek art; art auctions; contemporary art

1. Introduction

In the modern era art has been granted a special status among human activities, a perception that accompanies still many contemporary globalized practices. Accordingly, the art market represents a special case of economics (Benhamou, Fr. 2000, Van Maanen, H. 2009, Doyle, G. 2010) one of mainly symbolic values according to many sociologists following Bourdieu (1986). Classical economists (e.g. Adam Smith, Stanley Jevons, and Alfred Marshall) came across the art market while developing their theories of value and price formation, and they all

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0-30-6972443373; fax: +0-30-26510-05086. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the 2nd International Conference on Strategic Innovative Marketing. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.07.059

agreed that it was an exception that went beyond the limits of their theories (Velthuis, O. 2005). Although economics of the arts has certainly been established as a specialization within economics (Ginsburgh, V., & Throsby, D. 2006) titles such as "Pricing the Priceless" (Grampp, W. 1989), "Why Is a Rauschenberg So Expensive?" (Pommerehne, W.W., & Schneider, F. 1983) or "Why are Artists Poor?" (Abbing, H. 2002), are evidence of the challenge that this market presents to economic theory (Beckert, J., & Rossel, J. 2013). Despite the theoretical tools one might choose, the fact remains: "Art and culture function within the general economy. In many respects the individuals and firms that consume or produce art behave like consumers and producers of other goods and services; in some significant ways, however, they behave differently" (Heilbrun, J., & Gray, Ch. M. 2004).

In Greece, the arts have played a significant role in many levels. The country exists as an independent state since the 1830s. Its national identity was based on a linear historical narrative, which connected the art and language of the distant past to the present. Classical antiquity in the beginning, Byzantium by the end of the 19th century and folk art in the 1930s, constituted the fundamental areas on which the Greek national identity was constructed. The art of these periods, respected, studied, assimilated and consumed all over the world, continue to be -even today- the content of the collocation "Greek art" in museum language and in the secondary market.

Contemporary art creation has constantly been an issue of fierce debates for Greeks in the 19th and 20th centuries. Compared with masterpieces of times past, contemporary works were always on the losing side. There could be no contemporary artist to compete with Praxiteles, Lysippos, Leoharis or with any Byzantine Master. It was also difficult to assimilate the art production of European countries, which had an advanced educational system for artists and a complex market to support their production. The Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA), the only art school in the country for more than a century, was founded in 1837 (Lambraki-Plaka, M. 1990) and functioned, until the late 1930s, as a conservative art academy. A local academia has been established in Greece by the 1880s (bibliographically known as "The School of Munich"), producing mainly naturalistic genre paintings and classical-styled sculptures. A turn towards modern art was promoted in the inter-war period. Since the 1950s, what was called "tradition" and innovation were both accepted as contemporary Greek art, though not without resistance (Kotidis, A. 1993 & 2012).

Style and ideology do not account for prices. They do, however, define what is interesting enough to be an object of desire, and thus have a price. Artefacts of all periods coming from within Greece's national borders interested westerners and were, since the 18th century Grand Tour, their premium choice, as collector's items or as interior decoration favorites. But what about more contemporary Greek art works? Were they of interest to anyone? Did they- or do they still- appeal to an internal art market? Is there any international interest in this kind of production?

In this paper, we focus on 20th-century Greek art in primary and secondary art markets. As "primary" are defined markets, in which works are sold for the first time by the artist or his/hers representative/s. As "secondary", markets, in which galleries, art dealers, or auction houses, resell these artefacts (Boll, D. 2009). The collocation "art market" is used in this paper to describe the market for fine arts. We look first at the historical growth of the market for Greek art and of the art market in Greece, and then we examine the function of the latter, particularly in connection with 19th- and 20th-centuries Greek art. Since there is practically no literature on the issue and no official data available from the Hellenic Statistical Authority, we are currently not in the position to discuss in-depth the situation. These are some preliminary thoughts.

2. The market for Greek art

After the War of Independence (1821-1828), Greece was recognized as an independent nation in 1832. Until the inter-war period, she remained an agrarian country, very sparsely populated. An industrial sector had to be created practically from scratch (Agriantoni, Ch. 1986). The assimilation of Greece in the international economic system has been particularly atypical (Tsoukalas, C. 1992). The country became integrated into the world system

of industrial capitalism belatedly and in a very dependent and problematic fashion (Dertilis, G. 1984). During her almost one century of independent existence in the modern western world, Greek economy has generally favored the development of agriculture and of the service sector (Hadziiossif, Ch. 1993). After the 1939-1945 War and the Civil War that followed it (1944-1949), Greece as part of the western capitalist world restructured her economy. USA funds through the Marshall Plan and foreign investments fuelled the development of industries. As a result, in the early 1960s, exports of manufactured goods exceeded agricultural exports for the first time in Greek history (Gallant, Th. W. 2001, Mouzelis, N. 1978). After a rapid expansion in the 1950s and 1960s, the growth of real GDP slowed to only 1,5 percent annually in the period of 1973-1995 (Maddison, A. 1995). Since its admission to the EU (1981), Greece has received large transfers of funds from the rest of the European Union. Due to diverse reasons, however, the industrial sector of the Greek economy was and still is very weak (Bosworth, B., & Kollintzas Tr. 2001). The recent economic crisis (2009 to the present) has put many certainties into question.

The market for fine arts in Greece, operating within this broadly sketched economic environment, could not be but idiosyncratic. At this point, a clarification should be made as to whether there are differences between the markets of different art styles or periods.

2.1 The market for non-contemporary Greek art

As Classicism and Romanticism swept through Europe in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, a fascination with the antique prevailed. In the 19th century, when an organized international art market system appeared, the collocation "Greek Art" was exclusively connected with antiquity. In that period the British and French were emerging as the great art buyers, inaugurating a new type of international patronage (Robertson, I. 2005, Bayer, Th. M., & Page J. R. 2011, Boll, D. 2009). National and Imperial Museums were founded, grand-scale archaeological excavations commenced across the Mediterranean and the trafficking of antiquities flourished. Greece increasingly became a source market for Europe and a large number of ancient artefacts were transferred outside national borders to satisfy the taste of wealthy buyers.

The Law "On scientific and technological collections, on discovery and keeping of antiquities and on their use" (FEK 22, 16 June 1834), created by Georg Ludwig von Maurer (Liebersohn, H. 2011), was the first attempt of the Greek state to legally organize excavations, privately owned collection and the market of antiquities. The law recognized the existence of private collections, permitted excavations on private land, and gave the right to landowners to negotiate prices and sell the discovered artefacts, after officially registering their finds. No item could leave the country without permission from the government. This measure did not stop illegal transactions, which is still a serious problem across the Mediterranean (Campbell, P. 2013). Local people in the 19th century usually had no perception of the value of ancient art and acted on the basis of an empirical system for their transactions. According to Yannis Galanakis (2012), in the second half of the 19th century more than 50 antique dealers and excavators operated in Athens, some legally registered, others not.

The western "obsession" with antiquity continued throughout the 20th century. Prices, even in recent years, are remarkable: $1.000.000 for an Attic calyx krater, bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1972, $1.700.000 for a calyx krater signed by Euphronios, in 1990 (Bentley, R.A., Maschner H.D.G., & Chippindale, Chr. 2008), to mention but the most publicized examples. Over the last decade major auction houses promoted dozens of antiquities (many times of unclear provenience), confirming the assertion of Maria Baugh (2007) that antiquities are still the hottest investment.

Numbers continue to astonish the public and stories of looting ancient sites to shock, as articles in the press on cultural heritage and art appear mainly when high prices or criminal acts are involved. Considering that Greece, as many countries of the Mediterranean with a glorious past and an unstable economic present, continue to be the source of ancient objects, to cultivate a local market for such objects is highly precarious and of doubtful benefit. Currently in force Presidential Decree 161 (FEK 146, 13 June 2003), which regulates the terms of existence and

operation of private collections and museums, of registered art dealers and of the market of antiquities, does not leave any space for the marketing of cultural heritage goods. To fight black market and to prevent trafficking of antiquities, bilateral agreements between Greece and other countries are constantly signed and updated. As goods protected by international legislation and ethics, artefacts that belong to a country's cultural heritage are considered inalienable.

With no new objects to sell and limited quantities to resale, an art market is unviable. Any transaction, and of course any transportation of cultural goods outside of national borders, are strictly supervised by the Greek Ministry of Culture. Therefore, the market of "Greek Art" (or, to be more precise, of non-contemporary Greek Art) is not Greece herself. This market flourished outside of national borders in the 19th century and up to day continues to do so.

2.2 The market for contemporary Greek art

A market serving the living artists first appeared in Greece in the 1880s, during a short period of economic prosperity. In that context wealthy citizens decorated their homes with paintings (still lives, portraits of relatives and orientalistic subjects) in an attempt to develop a taste similar to the upper class bourgeoisie of Western Europe. Alexandros Xydis (1976) maintained that every Athenian family needed a couple of family portraits, made by Georgios Iakovidis, Nikiforos Lytras or Polychronis Lempesis, to demonstrate their rising social level.

By the end of 19th century the ASFA was already a respected, established academy. Being the only one of its kind in Greece, its domination on art production and art institutions was unquestioned. In practice the ASFA controlled the few exhibitions taking place in Athens and the anemic Greek art market. Exhibition spaces were scarce. In practice only Zappeion was offered for large-scale exhibitions, like the Panhellenia show, which was latter established as the annual exhibition of the ASFA. Individual artists could exhibit in their studios, in private houses, in big hotels' foyers, in bookstore windows or in the premises of the literary society Parnassus (Scaltsa, M., & Tsouhlou, D. 1989).

In the first three decades of the 20th century the absolute monopoly of the ASFA at an exhibition and commercial level was challenged, as a contemporary art market was beginning to take shape in Athens. The Greek Art Society (1907) and the Hellenic Association of Artists (1910) were founded. Despite their programmatic differences, they both aimed at enhancing the art market and at providing economic assistance to their members (Ibid., p. 44). In addition, individual artists organized themselves in various groups (e.g. the Tehni group in 1917), with or without political motivation and assistance, through which they sought recognition in the local and European markets (Moschonas, Sp. 2010). In 1930, the establishment of the Association of Antique and Contemporary Art Dealers presented Greek artists an additional opportunity to sell their works. Its members traded both ancient artefacts and modern creations and organized bazaars including paintings, sculptures, jewelry and rare objects. However, as it did not have any specialized character, it failed to develop into a dynamic art market, functioning in accordance with international norms.

It was after the 1939-1945 War that a market for contemporary Greek art emerged in Greece, structured on the basis of its coeval European one. Exhibitions spaces and art galleries in Athens multiplied at a stunning rate: 14 in the 1940s, 32 in the 1950s, 59 in the 1960s. During the same period cities outside Athens acquired art collections and art appreciation societies (Scaltsa, M., & Tsouhlou, D. 1989). In the 1950s and 1960s macroeconomics were advancing, but the buying capacity of the locals was meager. The art market was reserved for the wealthy Greeks and for tourists who would accidentally find something interesting during their vacation. The latter were usually people of middle income who, in comparison with the locals, could afford to spend some money on art or considered consuming art a priority. Contemporary Greek artists sold at comparable low prices (Matthiopoulos, E. 2009). To attract more buyers, galleries and artists would transfer their activities to places where a potential audience could be reached. The usual practice was during summer months to exhibit on islands (the most favorite being Hydra) or in ocean and cruise liners (e.g. TSS Olympia, since 1955). The military coup

d'état of 1967, which ended in 1974, hindered the development of the local art market. Some artists were driven to exile in Europe (e.g. Tsarouchis moved to Paris) and of those who stayed behind many chose not to exhibit, as a protest against the regime.

After the restoration of democracy and until the end of the 1980s, the number of art galleries and art spaces in Athens increased and exhibitions were organized in other cities (Thessaloniki, Patra, Kavala, Ioannina, Kalamata, Heraklion etc). Galleries, which would operate in a more open and specialized way, functioned providing a space for discussions and non-commercial experimentation. Two examples are indicative. The Gallery Desmos in Athens, an avant-garde gallery during the 1970s, was above all a "meeting place" (Tzirtzilakis, Y. 1999) focused on contemporary Greek art. It attracted many young artists, experimenting with conceptual art, installations and performances. The Zita-Mi gallery in Thessaloniki also introduced many contemporary Greek artists, developed links with international art theorists (e.g. Pierre Restany), and showed works of internationally known artists, such as Andy Warhol (Kamara, K., & Misirloglou, Th. 2010).

The 1970s and 1980s were colored by the presence and personality of Alexander Iolas (1907-1987), a remarkable gallerist, operating from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s in New York, Geneva, Paris, Milan, Zurich, Madrid and Rome. He was the only Greek art dealer of international repute. His mythical mansion in Athens and his priceless art collection, which included works of classical, byzantine and contemporary art, his eccentric behavior and provocative life-style, still ignites debates. Iolas helped the establishment of young Greek artists (Costas Tsoklis, Alexis Akrithakis, Takis, Pavlos etc) in Europe by promoting them through his galleries. He also encouraged the development of new art galleries in Athens (Iola-Zoumboulaki, Medousa, Vicky Drakou, Aithousa Tehnis Athinon, Skoufa).The 1980s was the decade that modern and contemporary Greek art reached higher prices in the internal market. It was also the time that the increased demands of the nouveau riche for status symbols, mostly impressive paintings to hang on the walls of their rich mansions, led the market of fakes to flourish in Greece (Pournara, M. 2008). The 1990s marked a turning point for the Greek art scene: collectors of contemporary art and educated advisors appeared, and the secondary market for modern and contemporary art advanced as international auction houses became interested in this mostly unknown area of art production.

2.3 Auction houses in Greece

The first specialized Greek art auction was conducted in Athens in 1987 by the art dealer Stavros Mihalarias. One year later, the 19th-century work Sortie of Aris (1894) by Konstantinos Volanakis was sold for 85.000.000 drachmas (Sokou, K. 2000). Mihalarias, a well-known restorer, gallerist and art dealer, claims to have contributed "in establishing essentially the basis of the Greek art market" (Mihalarias, S. Bio). This is probably not far from the truth. No matter how successful Mihalarias' auctions might have been, his was a local enterprise of a limited range, which could not compete with the international specialization and expertise offered by the colossi of its kind.

Christie's opened a branch in Athens in 1993, specializing in 19th- and 20th-century Greek art. In their first year of business in the country the press could already publish success stories: Prodromos Emfietsoglou, businessman and collector, bought The Secret School (1885-6) by Nikolaos Gyzis at 1.000.000 drachmas, outbidding the Greek state in the process. The operation of an international auction house in Athens caused many changes in the demand for 19th- and 20th-century Greek art, both in and outside of Greece's borders, and certainly in prices. Modern and Contemporary Greek Art was a newly discovered, unexplored and possibly profitable area for the world art market and so presented new opportunities for investment. Soon other auction houses included 19th-and 20th-century Greek art in their repertoire. Sotheby's and Bonhams regularly hold a Greek Sale, which does not refer to ancient art. According to Constantine Frangos, Senior Director and Specialist in Charge of the Greek Sales at Sotheby's, "the market for Greek art is constantly gathering momentum, and the growing interest in this market is fuelling prices and resulting in new benchmarks continually being set. Collectors were prepared to bid high today to secure top quality works from both the 19th and 20th centuries as well as contemporary pieces;

masterpieces by Theodoras Rallis, Constantinos Parthenis, Nicholas Gyzis and Yannis Moralis were highly sought-after by collectors from all around the world" (Frangos, C. 2008).

Prices confirm the international interest in 19th- and 20th-century Greek art. Sotheby's held its first Greek sale in 2001. During the period 2001-2008 they sold approximately £50.000.000 of Greek art, with a record £15.600.000 made in "the remarkable year" 2007 (Ibid). The same auction house holds the world record price at auction for any work of art in this category, which was achieved with the sale for £1.609.250 of Constantinos Volanakis' painting The Arrival of Karaiskakis at Faliro in November 2008. Prices are usually higher for works dated in 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In 2012 the Greek Sale at Bonhams included works from Nicholaos Gyzis (1842-1901) and Yannis Moralis (1916-2009), estimated at $245.000-323.000 and $161.000-245.000 respectively. Works by 20th-century artists are usually estimated below €100.000: Alexis Akrithakis sold at prices averaging €46.000, Takis at €58.000 and Kessanlis at €35.000.

The presence of international auction houses in the Greek art market has certainly advertised modern and contemporary Greek art broadly and created an international interest in this production. Elizabeth Lira, director of Christie's in Greece argued: "The auction house offers more in Greece than it earns from its business here" (Sokou, K. 2000). However, a serious side effect soon appeared: local auction houses could not compete with the glamour and security offered by the international houses. Prices dropped in the local market and smaller or lower quality works were promoted in order to serve lower-budget buyers. Interestingly enough, modern and contemporary Greek art reaches higher prices when sold in the international secondary market, than in the local one. For example, in a Kapopoulos auction in 2010 a work by Nikos Kessanlis (1930-2004) was estimated at €18.000-25.000 (Kapopoulos, G. 2010). At Bonhams a similar work by the same artist was sold for €54.000. The same also applies for works of non-Greek artists. The Violin by Arman was estimated at €45.000-65.000 in Greece and at Christie's a similar work was sold for €105.450. Despite the large price differences, Greek art buyers routinely address non-Greek firms for their purchases. This phenomenon can be attributed to various factors. In Greece the promotion of contemporary culture was never at the epicenter of political decisions. The domestic art market for modern and contemporary art was organized more or less on a day-to-day basis. It is facing a serious lack of infrastructure, relating to issues of cultural marketing and management. In the country there are no specialized professionals to evaluate and price art works. Without experts on the field there are problems connected to the authenticity of Greek art works, often resolved in courts. This affects even well established firms of the secondary art market. For example, a major Greek collector accused Sotheby's for selling two fake paintings attributed to the Greek artist Constantinos Parthenis (1878-1967) - a case that spread fears that the Greek art market is flooded with fakes (Pryor, R. 2012). Still, buyers prefer the tradition and higher service levels of the international market. As Bonhams advertise, the London-based auction house "offers an unrivalled level of service on an international scale whether you need confidential advice on the potential value of your Greek paintings, or whether you are a collector seeking to enrich your collection" (Bonhams Department of Greek Sales).

3. Conclusion

The market for modern and contemporary Greek art is structured as every local art market in Europe. In Greece a potential buyer can approach galleries, independent art dealers and auction houses. Since 1993 a foire in Athens (Art-Athina), launched by the Hellenic Art Galleries Association, provides a comprehensive overview of the local production (Official site of Art Athina: Greece hosts, since 2007, two Biennales of Contemporary Art, one in Athens (Official site of the Biennale of Athens: and one in Thessaloniki (Official site of the Biennale of Thessaloniki: However, as former gallery owner Katerina Kamara (2009) observed, the art market in Greece is a completely closed market, selling mainly Greek artists. For Ileana Tounta (2010), owner of a well-known contemporary art gallery in Athens, it is "out of the game".

As an emerging peripheral market, the modern and contemporary Greek art market has been "discovered" in the 1990s by reputable auction houses, and hence, advertised and sold internationally. This new, globalized environment also influenced the art that is circulated and traded at the local level. These changes did not happen in a void; they are typical of the increasing dominance of the art market within the artworld worldwide. Trade liberalization during the 1990s and 2000s at a global level caused an increase in the art markets within and for art scenes, otherwise considered peripheral (Jelinek, A. 2013). Although figures differ significantly, an international interest for modern and contemporary Indian (Ciotti, M. 2012), Russian and above all Chinese (Collett-White, M. 2011) art emerged at almost the same period as for Greek art, and had similar results at a local level. As the study of the market for Latin American art shows (Edwards, S. 2004) peripheral art scenes may be of extreme financial interest internationally and beneficial to the local economy. Contemporary art has evolved worldwide as the hottest segment of the art market (Thompson, D. 2008), which is generally considered a powerful financial source. In Greece a local market for contemporary art can also evolve to play a serious economic role. It may prove to be a significant investment, be incorporated in tourist policies of the Greek state to attract visitors (Kavoura, A. 2013), and provide income for the country. For example, contemporary art production may be considered part of a destination branding of Greece, as part of the promotion of the country's distinctive and unique elements as a tourism destination (Kavoura, A., & Katsoni, V. 2013). Ancient, byzantine, folk or contemporary, Greek art to become "an industry" for the country's economy needs state support, analysis and centralized, serious planning (Scaltsa, M. 1999). Currently closed, out of the game, operating in a strictly local frame, lacking the infrastructure, with no state support, the modern and contemporary Greek art market certainly does not lack potentials.


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