Art & Culture
Dakis Joannou: On Art Dialogues

By Lilia Ziamou

“It is about being in a dialogue.” -Dakis Joannou

Dakis Joannou is a Greek collector and the founder of the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, a non-profit institution established in 1983. “Being in a dialogue” was the common thread that ran through my conversation with Dakis Joannou. He spoke passionately about DESTE’s vision and his conversations with artists, collaborators, and art itself.

The Beginning of the Dialogues
Dakis Joannou has always been interested in art and in the early 80’s, as this interest matured, he started exploring ways to be an active participant in the dialogue around art. He immersed himself in conversations with artists, curators, and critics. These dialogues around art were not only a precursor of the DESTE Foundation but have remained at its core throughout the years. In 1983, DESTE — the Greek work for “look,” the initials stand for International Greek Contemporary Art in Greek — was established as a platform for pursuing new ideas, develop creative networks and explore the connections between contemporary art and culture.

In Dialogue with Artists
For Joannou, it is vitally important to get to know the artist behind the work; to understand how the artist thinks, his/her experiences, the content of the work.

I really respect the people who put their time into creating something, anything. People who become consumed by this act of creation. Artists give everything to art, commit their entire life to it. For me, this is what distinguishes an artist from the rest of us, that nothing can distract them from their commitment to making art.

In Dialogue with Art

The work must grab you. There must be a magnetism inside the work. It must communicate. Then, it must have passion. It must have content. It must be charged.

An Interdisciplinary Dialogue
Projects that foster dialogue between contemporary art and architecture, fashion, and design have been an ongoing component of DESTE’s exhibition program. One of these projects, the destefashioncollection aims at a dialogue between artists and fashion objects. From 2007 to 2014, DESTE commissioned one artist every year to choose five fashion objects from international fashion collections and reinterpret them visually and/or verbally with his/her own creations. The approach was very personal and subjective, but also very vibrant Joannou said. This project was presented at the Benaki Museum in Athens in 2014, and another exhibition based on this project will be on view at the Bass Museum in Miami in 2017.

An Open-Ended Dialogue and Experimentation
DESTE’s curatorial process is fluid, Joannou explains, and characterized by constant experimentation in terms of conceptualizing, executing and communicating new projects. For example, Liquid Classicism, an upcoming project in collaboration with Brooke Holmes from the department of Classics at Princeton and Diller Scofidio + Renfro challenges the traditional relationship between an exhibition and its accompanying catalogue by reversing their roles.

Experimentation is important because it is about breaking barriers, going beyond what is known, and that’s exciting.

Joannou adds that this open-ended and experimental approach has allowed the foundation to respond to what is current in the art world.

33 Years of Dialogues
The foundation has recently published DESTE 33 YEARS: 1983-2015, a 850-page book. In this publication, the history of the foundation and Dakis Joannou, its founder, is revealed as a story of relationships with artists, curators, and writers. In the early stages of this project, Joannou and the editorial team discussed various approaches, such as a “commemorative” and an “archival” approach, but opted for an “oral history” approach, a mixture of the two.

This approach brought together the artists, the shows, the projects, the objects. It brought together everyone who has been involved with the foundation. Because the relationships are extremely important.

Future Dialogues
DESTE will engage in collaborative shows at various venues and will follow the open-ended approach that has been at the core of the foundation since its inception. The projects will evolve through dialogue and experimentation. These collaborations will place the works in new contexts, Joannou explains, and will connect them with a new creative concept. “I want to create energy around ideas, it is a way of living” Joannou concludes.

The transcribed text has been edited for length and clarity.

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