Alexandros Iolas and Thessaloniki It is remarkable how very important things can grow out of everyday, simple situations: Maro Lagia’s long friendship with Iolas, her commitment to the idea of a Museum of contemporary art in Thessaloniki and the immediate action taken by Petros Kamaras formed a combination of factors that led to «Iolas’ Donation» of forty seven works of art. Much has already been achieved since the initial conversation of 1978; while the idea of a Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art animated a group of people who have worked very hard to make it an institution with character and breadth that will continue to inspire its members, and its friends and supporters. Alexandros Iolas was fascinated by Thessaloniki and its people. It reminded him, he said, of Alexandria; and he felt that on this relation, on this invisible thread, destiny would preserve his memory. Not in the people’s mind, but tangibly, in the works he delivered into their hands. For he believed that museums are better off in private hands, just like culture, which can thrive without governmental decisions. Alexandros Iolas was a man of the arts, a true cosmopolitan, a perceptive collector and a competent merchant. Still, a young man in the ‘30s he left his native Alexandria to study dance in Paris and Berlin. As principal dancer of the Metropolitan Opera of New York he travelled in Europe and discovered the new currents and styles in contemporary art. When a serious accident put an end to his career he decided to devote himself to collecting works of art. He was very excited about the work of Max Ernst, and later Rene Magritte and Victor Brauner.
Iolas quickly realised that post-war America was ready to receive restless Europe. Art was acquiring a market and a market value and it would not be overstatement to say that Iolas played a role in this development. Relying on a combination of instinct and knowledge, he sponsored and promoted what his experienced eye discerned. In 1953 he opened his first gallery in New York, 1963 in Geneva, 1964 in Paris, 1965 in Milan and a little later in Madrid. He promoted new artists, and established them, his gallery hosting names like Niki de Saint Phalle, Martial Raysse, Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Pino Pascali, Eliseo Mattiacci, Andy Warhol, Jean Tinguely, Roberto Crippa and Novello Finotti. In 1965 he decided to settle in Greece. He built himself a house-cum-museum in Aghia Paraskevi, on the outskirts of Athens. He met and befriended new artists, among them Takis, Akrithakis, Tsoklis and Pavlos, and set them on the ladder to international recognition and success. In so doing he left his mark on the 60s, 70s and 80s. An ambivalent personality, Alexandros Iolas was hard to decipher throughout his life. Prolific, cynical, and unpredictable, he reacted aggressively to the censure of conventional morality. Alexandros Iolas died in New York in 1987, his dream of an «Iolas Museum» in Athens unfulfilled. His vast and extraordinarily valuable collection, remained scattered, and only part of it is housed in the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Alexandros Iolas’ encounter with Thessaloniki was to acquire special significance, not only for the city but also for the posthumous fame of this singularly perceptive collector. There is nothing in Greece today to recall his inspired and creative sojourn in the country save the collection of the 47 works that he donated a generation ago as a “nucleus” around which to build a Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in this city. It was with great joy that the Board of Directors of the MMCA decided to honour him by giving his name to the Museum’s new three-storey wing and to dedicate to him the catalogue of the permanent collection, which now numbers more than one thousand works (paintings, sculptures, installations, assemblages, engravings, photographs), in the hope that the Museum will remain independent, unconventional and open-minded, that is guided by the same principles that charactirised Iolas himself. Donors The gesture made by Alexandros Iolas, the Museum’s first great benefactor, found its followers. Well-known collectors, including Magda Kotzia, Franz Geierhaas, Alexandros and Dorothea Xydis, Giorgos Apergis and Dimitris Meïmaroglou, and with them a host of artists, continue to offer collections and individual works, constantly expanding the Museum’s collection. In addition to our gratitude to all the artist-donors who have thus supported the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, we wish to express our immense appreciation of their work. The formal and conceptual qualities of their work succeed in establishing a dialectic relation with the young students through the Museum’s educational programmes. Thus, the artistic message is conveyed to the young people promoting their cultural awareness. Heading the list of benefactors of the Museum are Giorgos Philippou of Philkeram-Jοhnsοn, who housed the Museum and its collection from 1979 to 2001, and Ι. Boutaris & Son SA, that shouldered its financial costs in the early years of its operation. Other major sponsors include TIF-HELEXPO, which initially provided space for the Museum’s temporary exhibitions in the Public Power Corporation pavilion, and later (1999-2002) for the construction of successive additions, originally with the support of the “Thessaloniki ‘97” Cultural Capital of Europe Organisation and subsequently thanks to a substantial grant from the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) via the European Investment Bank and the Greek government via the Ministries of Finance and Culture, and the “Stavros S. Niarchos” Foundation, which funded the organisation of the Museum Library and which continues to support its exhibition activity, particularly with regard to the presentation of its collection, in the Museum, in Athens and abroad. Donations and state financial support are particularly important for the Museum –The Ministry of Culture recognising the importance and growing fame of the Museum has supported it both morally (Programme Agreements) and financially for its operational requirements thus contributing actively to its growth and modernization (3rd CSF Operational Programmes “Culture 2000-2008” and “Information Society”, grants from which this was made possible). Of equal importance is the tremendous contribution made by our sponsors, who shoulder the financial burden of the Museum’s activities, exhibitions and parallel events. They include public bodies, credit institutions, cultural foundations, private businesse, the media, private citizens, and art galleries. The Boards of Directors of the Macedonian Centre of Contemporary Art, Architecture and Industrial Design and of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art wish to thank all those who have given their moral and material support in their difficult mission. Without the benefactors, the sponsors and the donors, without the artists and the art galleries, without the individual people who support its activities, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art would have never been able to pursue its aims and its programmes. The foundation is run by a thirteen-member Board of Directors, whose first members were appointed by the Constitutional Charter of the Foundation published in the Government Gazette no. 469/21.06.1994. They were: Ex officio Members: The Deputy Mayor for Culture of the Municipality of Thessaloniki. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Thessaloniki International Fair. The President of the Thessaloniki Chamber of Trade & Industry. Two members of the serving Board of Directors of the founding Association, designated by that Board. Eight members appointed by the absolved Board of Directors of the Foundation. The first Board of Directors of the “Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art” Foundation were: The Deputy Mayor for Culture of the Municipality of Thessaloniki. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Thessaloniki International Fair. The President of the Thessaloniki Chamber of Trade & Industry. Argyris Maltsidis Panagiotis Kokkas Xanthi Heupel Ioannis Boutaris Maria Dambassina (Lagia) Atalande Siaga Matoula Scaltsa Aikaterini Mihailidou Katerina Kamara Alexandra Boutari The present Board of Directors of the Association was proposed by the serving Board as above at its meeting number 74/15.06.2006. After the General Meeting of the Macedonian Centre of Contemporary Art, Architecture and Industrial Design on 16.04.2008, the formal election procedure, and the initial meeting of the new Board on 08.05.2008 at which its officers were elected, it was decided that the Association would be represented on the Board of the Foundation by MCCA President Dr Xanthippe Skarpia-Heupel and Secretary Katerina Kamara.
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