A tour of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens
The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens
A wonderful addition to the cultural highlights of Athens, the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) more than lives up to its goal of promoting innovative and experimental artistic movements through painting and 3D artworks, photography and new media, and architecture and industrial design.
In doing so, it explores timeless themes such as democracy, identity and exclusion as well as some of the most pressing issues of our time, from the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean to racial discrimination and violence.
It was established in 2000 and originally housed in various locations around the Greek capital (including the Athens Concert Hall and Athens School of Fine Arts). Eventually, it found a home in the former FIX brewery – a landmark building in Athens – near the lively neighbourhood of Koukaki, a short walk from the Acropolis, which you can enjoy from the museum’s terrace. The industrial design of the 18,142m2 building and minimalism of the expansive, naturally lit exhibition spaces add to the effect, making it one of the best museums in Athens.
There are regular temporary exhibitions but the permanent collection of 172 works of 78 international and modern Greek artists is the centrepiece attraction, covering themes of:
- Memories - Claims - Political narratives
Looking in part at the sociopolitical impact of the 1967-74 dictatorship on the Greek diaspora and those remaining in Greece.
- Limits and passages
Investigating issues relating to population shifts, geographical and sociopolitical boundaries.
- Eterotopias – Mythology of the familiar – New perspectives
Dealing with concepts such as myth, time, personal and collective memory.
The Permanent Collection
The Boat of my Life
An installation by Russian-American conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov consisting of a wooden fence and boat with stairways at either end. Visitors can climb the stairs and walk across the boat, which is filled with 25 boxes containing photographs, texts and other memorabilia that depict the journey of the artist’s life (he was born to Jewish parents in Ukraine when it was part of the USSR, evacuated during the Nazi occupation and worked in Moscow before moving to America in the 1980s). The last box is empty, representing a person’s final voyage as nothing but a soul entering the next world.
This installation was created by Bethlehem-born Emily Jacir as a memorial to the 418 Palestinian villages destroyed, depopulated and occupied by Israel in 1948. Jacir conceived and created the work during a residency in New York in 2001. It fits into her investigation of historical narratives dealing with sociopolitical issues such as the movement and displacement of populations, borders and boundaries, and in particular with themes of loss and resistance. The names of 418 villages are embroidered onto the tent.
This mixed media installation by Beirut-born Mona Hatoum consists of items found on the premises of the Fix brewery (such as rusty fixtures and furnishings, shelf units, lockers and cables). It is part of the artist’s exploration of space and matter (as well as systems of social control, confinement, displacement, subversion and disorientation) through the preservation of the memory of an industrial urban landscape in decline. Within the 6mx10m installation, light bulbs flicker behind a wire mesh, producing buzzing or screeching sounds and generating an impression of dysfunction and a sense of anxiety. The effect is designed to trigger contradictory emotions and readings.
A monumental installation by Greek-Italian Jannis Kounellis created for the museum as part of the artist’s theme of exploring the “alienation of contemporary society by juxtaposing industrial materials and urban mass culture with symbols and values of a pre-industrial world”. It consists of multiple cross-shaped diagonal black metal rails leaning towards the ground, with the crosses arranged in a circular pattern in the middle of which stands a table loaded with bags of charcoal. The table is designed to resemble a sacrificial altar.
Αkropolis Redux (The Director’s Cut)
A work by South African artist Kendell Geers, also commissioned by the museum. The artist was born into a white South African family but was involved in the anti-apartheid movement, and his work explores issues of racial segregation, suppression, exploitation, racism and violence. This large-scale installation is inspired by the Parthenon, with rolls of barbed wire on steel shelves depicting the columns of the temple. The space is designed to resemble a military equipment warehouse.
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How do you get to the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens?
- The museum is located on the corner of Kallirois Ave & Amvr. Frantzi St, just outside central Athens. It is 280m from Syngrou-Fix metro station (red line) and 300m from Fix tram station.
What is the best way to reach central Athens from the airport or port?
- You can catch a taxi (about €38 during the day) or bus, or hire a car from Athens International Airport, or take the metro directly to the centre (blue line).
- There are also taxis (€25 during the day), buses and a metro station (green line) at Piraeus port (change to blue line at Monastiraki or red line at Omonia). Depending on your ferry gate, it could be a 15-20min walk to the metro station.
What are the opening times and how much are tickets?
- The museum is open every day (except Mondays and some national holidays) throughout the year.
- Tickets cost €8 (€4 reduced)
- More information on opening hours & tickets here
What is the best time to visit Athens?
To get the most out of Athens, it is best to visit between October-April when the summer crowds have thinned and you’ll enjoy the company of Athenians going about their daily lives.
How much time do you need to visit the museum?
- Most visits to Athens’ National Museum of Contemporary Art last 1-2 hours but how long you stay will depend on how much detail you want to go into and how much time you have available.
- There is a gift shop on the ground floor.
- There are regular temporary exhibitions in addition to the permanent collection.
- Visitors are provided with tablets with a digital navigation application in Greek, English and French. Alternatively, you can download the EMST app (available on iOS and Android) or find a museum tour on the Smartify app to learn more about the museum’s collection on a smartphone.
- The museum is fully accessible for people with disabilities. The entrance for visitors with limited mobility is on Syngrou Avenue. For more info on visitors with disabilities see here.