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  • Writer's pictureStella Sevastopoulos, MA

A Brief History of Benaki at Pireos 138 in Athens

What is Benaki Pireos 138?

The new Benaki museum on Pireos 138 Street is the modern branch of the Benaki museum in Athens. It hosts a wide variety of events and exhibitions of fashion, photography, design and architecture.

The building of the Benaki museum at Pireos 138

Benaki Pireos 138 History

Imagine the Pireos annexe of the Benaki Museum as a cultural cocoon. Outside the main entrance stand metallic forms, enigmatically suggesting both weather measuring devices and bodies, their arms rotating in the wind; these are sculptures by the famous Greek artist Takis, of international repute, who passed away in 2019. Passing through the doors, you’ll come to the courtyard and its pleasant cool shade; the sound of the traffic outside dies away.

The exterior of this building is covered in red marble, while on the inside, its lovely atrium is lined with wooden ramps that zig-zag up to its various floors. The building opened to the public in 2004 with the cutting-edge, international contemporary art exhibition ‘Outlook’, comprising works of over 80 artists, and curated by Christos M. Joachimides. From then on, the museum’s diverse programme of events has breathed a new cultural life into this post-industrial district. Its architects, Maria Kokkinou and Andreas Kourkoulas wanted to create a space that would not just serve as a museum, but also a cultural hub, an all-day meeting place of young and old. And indeed, the spacious courtyard allows you to enjoy a meal or a drink from the restaurant, while the Benaki shop adds some good old consumerist pleasure to the aesthetic stimulation of the events and shows on offer.

The Benaki Pireos is also the home of the Photographic Archives Department, with over 300,000 negatives and 25,000 photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries, documenting early Christian, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine art and architecture, but also the changing face of Greece and Greek culture. The archive is not open to the public, but welcomes researchers.

The exhibitions that have taken place here are consistent in quality but diverse in all other respects: from a wonderful show of Tony Cragg’s sculptures, to works by internationally acclaimed performance artist Marina Abramovic, to the retrospective exhibition of acclaimed Greek artist Christos Bokoros. When the quinquennial international exhibition Documenta came to Athens in 2017, in order to host its 14th edition both here and in its usual venues in Kassel, it used the Benaki Pireos, filling it with work that speaks to recent traumas of our time: Roee Rosen’s black-and-white installation Live and Die as Eva Braun, against the more ethnic art of Nilima Sheikh’s enormous scrolls that depict the struggles of the people of the Kashmir Valley, or the works of Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, that document the history of the Congo. When you emerge from this cocoon, you’ll see everything in a new light.

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