Sozita Goudouna: A Greek Curator in Manhattan

@GalaGreece Author @CleopatraPatlaki

• Tell me about yourself, where you were born, a few things about the environment you grew up in and how Art came into your life

I was born and raised in the center of Athens. My mother has artistic sensibilities and my uncle has worked systematically to support artists, therefore, art entered my life quite organically and spontaneously, but also as a means of a more philosophical (reflective) approach to life. I had the privilege of attending performances, exhibitions and events for adults, because my parents could not leave me at home. Probably, this reality made me form a more demanding criterion for my age. At the same time, my family environment was open minded, so I had the opportunity to watch small experimental performance at Carolos Koon Theater and Dimitrios Byzantio’s Babylonia but at the same time satire and popular shows, which made me realize the calibre of actors like Veggos, Harry Klynn.Karakatsanis, as well as the contemporary “Aristophanic” nature of our nation. Then, from the first grade of high school I think I didn’t miss any cultural event that interested me, from the performances of “Double Eros”, Cyclades Theater, Attis Theater, Empros, Technochoros etc. music festivals (Rodon, Rock Wave etc.), cinema (Art Studio, Asty etc.) and cultural interventions (Fix, Babel, Lycabettus, Strefi etc.)

• What exactly does the curator do and what is the feature that makes someone stand out in this job?

I am a fan of the so-called “Gesamtkunstwerk” (total work of art), and as much as the term has been overused, what captivates me in art is when the conditions of reception — location, social context, political and aesthetic pursuits — complement each other giving another dimension in the work itself. I think these parameters and their orchestration with relevance and accuracy contribute to the distinction of the curatorial work. That is, the curator is transformed into a “director” who is often called to give “life” to static works, at the same time, the curatorial work emerges thanks to the correlations and the selection of the artists, the historical atmosphere that is rendered, and the synapses and poetry that emerges from them.

• How you decided to create “Greece in USA”

I decided to launch the platform inspired by my experience as a curator of the New York Biennale Performa. Performa was created by renowned art historian RoseLee Goldberg with the intention to reclaim New York public space through art, following the 9/11 experience. By the same token, Greece in USA is inspired by Performa (https://performa-arts.org) to activate the dynamics of contemporary Greek art with interventions in cultural spaces and in the public space of New York. As a curator of Performa, I realized that Greek and Cypriot artists, like Maria Hassabi, were able to have a strong cultural exchange with American and international colleagues. I have the impression that fellow curators would like to learn more about the contemporary Greek scene and that is why the role of an organization like Greece in USA can be a catalyst for promoting the work of contemporary Greek artists abroad through osmosis with international artists and curators.

• The pandemic found you in New York, how did you experience this whole condition? What has changed in the way you think and operate one year of the pandemic

The pandemic found me in downtown Manhattan, from which I have not been able to escape for a year and a half. We are still in this state of affairs and it might be premature to observe and state that it seems that the pandemic has completely changed the way we think about the present, and especially the future. Art professions that are usually even more “precarious” but also “exciting” than other forms of employment are mostly affected by the pandemic. What worries me, however, is that we might fail to recall what positively emerged from this period, which has been so detrimental for many, namely, the realization of our vulnerability and perhaps the more sincere forms of communication and interaction that were developed during the pandemic. In art, rapid and drastic changes are taking place with NFTs and cryptocurrency, but I hope we do not restrict ourselves and to apply this collective shock in the most subversive way to save humans and the environment.

• What do you love about New York and what can you not stand?

The factors that make life in New York exciting and unique are the multiculturalism, the vibrant alternations and the random events that can completely change one’s life. One cannot imagine New York without high expectations. The city continues to give a sense of perspective and potentiality and this constant opportunity for development can only be addictive and endearing. The intense pace of life, and the sense of the ephemeral, is what motivates New York, but also what can exhaust, especially some groups of citizens. The precariousness of working conditions and at the same time the workaholism that can hide the fear of human intimacy can be tiring.

• Where do you live in New York and what does your typical day involve?

I live in TriBeCa, near Wall Street and where the terrorist attacks took place. The sense of reconstruction in the area, which took place after 9/11, was even more evident at the beginning of the pandemic when New York was turned into a ghost town. Every day I go to the office until 7pm, and many times I continue my work for teaching and for “GREECE IN USA” in my apartment. Now, that the city has opened after the lockdown, I hope that cultural events and gatherings will be restored and that I will be able see my good friends more often.

• What are you missing from Greece?

I miss everything, I haven’t been to Greece for a year and a half! I miss my family and friends, but also a few rays of sun on the urban beaches of Athens.

• Are you a person who makes plans or dreams?

As a good friend of mine writes “dreaming after all is a form of planning.” I make dreams that are usually achievable, but life has pleasantly surprised me, giving opportunities that I would not have imagined even in my most extreme dreams, like the opportunity to settle in New York. The challenge in these cases is to live up to the circumstances and expectations. There is of course the other side of the coin, as Americans say, “be careful of what you wish for, because it can happen!”

• What is your talent?

Maybe giving life to “things” that are static …

• Is Art a privilege of the few?

Art cannot and should not be a privilege, it is a common good and everyone should have access to art as spectators but also as creators. Curators, cultural establishments and governments officials have the responsibility to ensure that art should remain common good, which is always accessible to all and beyond the art market.

Collectors love art or think it’s just an investment

I have noticed from my association with collectors that there is no prominent collector who does not have great and special knowledge about the special field of art he collects. The well-known collectors we admire have a high supervision of the object and while of course they collect with an investment prism and according to the rules of the market they have almost a cult for the artists they collect. Their artists have catalyzed and influenced to a catalytic degree. Of course I am not referring to the kind of collector-investor-stockbroker who sees art only as “currency”. Many times old-fashioned collectors know more about the artists they collect than art historians, because among other things they have to sacrifice enough to get them …

• How easy is it for a talented young artist to gain value in the Art market?

The question is difficult and often arises, the most consistent answer is that statistically those who gain value are not those who openly or covertly chase the stock market of Art but those who have the ability to overlook it even for a while.

• Who are your favorite artists (in all areas)

I really love the constant need of artists for creativity and change. I would single out those who manage to maintain this tone in their work against the times and the relentless market of art. There are many, but if I had to stand out I would choose for the ethos and consistency, the South African artist of Greek origin, Penny Siopis, whom I suggested for a new TV series for the Sky network, which I am editing in collaboration with excellent colleagues. Also, as personalities I have collaborated, for their radical, irreconcilable and pioneering work, the Greek-American Lynda Benglis and Raymond Pettibon. From the performing arts and cinema to the legendary Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, who, like our Melina, have shown that artists can change political systems and backward mindsets. But at the same time they focused on the development of their work, it is enough to see “Marat-Sade” and “The Year of Magical Thinking” to understand the quality

of their actions. I also single out the choreographers Yvonne Rainer and the American Trajal Harrell, who has moved to Greece, because he prefers the Greek way of life. Contemporary artists that I distinguish because of the acquaintance with them are Jesper Just, Taryn Simon, Robin Rhode and the amazing actor Aris Retso, who I hope will continue his research in acting.

• I read somewhere about the first night you realized what makes you a New Yorker when you had nowhere to stay. What were the difficult moments you experienced in America and finally how different is life from Greece or London where you lived?

I made this statement because, I did not want to cultivate false impressions about the so-called “American dream”. Indeed, working, even for a skilled professional in America, is extremely difficult, let alone in such a competitive field of cultural production. We have all watched green card movies that are not far from reality, and perhaps this sense of difficulty makes America so attractive. But there are huge pitfalls and what shines is not gold, employers often take advantage of workers without a green card who consequently have fewer opportunities in such a competitive environment. The generality of the comparison with Greece and London is that there are more opportunities especially in the Academy and in the creative professions and that the efforts are rewarded in a more rational way. The difficulties of survival in America, however, are very intense even for the Americans themselves. It is difficult to compare these very different economies and cultures like the European and American but the only sure thing is that it is a great privilege to be able to delve into their basic characteristics.

• At the moment, what are the new great talents that stand out in the field of art? Do street artists like Jr. or Kaws displace the classics or is it a trend of the time that will deflate?

Spring auctions in New York are estimated at one billion this week. After a heartbreaking 2020, the art market is trying to recover. Usually recovery after a severe crisis is achieved through fixed values. Therefore, dealers (art dealers) focus on the secondary market and sales of the modern movement (20th century, Impressionists, etc.) and less on contemporary art which is more unstable. A few hours ago, Basquiat’s painting “In this Case” sold for $ 93.1 million at Christie’s. Therefore, as much as we are impressed by artists like Jr. and especially KAWS which is more conceptual, we will need to see how their market will calm down, especially in the age of cryptocurrency. The analysis of the Jeff Koons phenomenon will help us in this direction, especially now that he is moving from the galleries of David Zwirner and Gagosian to Pace.

• Which Greek artists do you single out?

In the first exhibition we organize within GREECE IN USA we present 150 Greek artists. They are creators who stand out for all their actions, work and studies. But the next step is to identify artists from the younger generation and to emerge, in order to promote their work more successfully. The collaboration we have concluded with the Athens School of Fine Arts also helps us in this goal.

• What are your favorite Museums and Art Galleries that stand out and why?

My favorite Museums are often museums and art galleries that were not built or built for this purpose. That is, exhibition spaces that are characterized by the personal element, such as the Freud Museum in the Hampstead area of ​​London or our Katakouzinou House on Amalias Street, which hosts exceptional exhibits and exhibitions. I would also like to highlight the Hugo Museum in Paris, located in the apartment rented by Victor Hugo. The museum has been designed in such a way as to take us on a journey through the life of the author, through furniture, objects and works of art. The Morgan Museum in New York is a similar museum that I love.

• What is the motto of your life?

Live and above all let others live

• Has art changed the way you look at the world and people?

Yes, art and creation are the prism through which we redefine people and the world.

• What are your next plans?

The head of the relevant department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has contacted us and we are planning the ways in which we could promote the work of Greek artists in America even more dynamically.

• What gives you joy and what can spoil your mood?

Unexpected generosity. Masked viciousness.

• As a young and beautiful woman, did you face prejudices and stereotypes that made your life difficult in the space you move?

While when I was younger I wanted to believe, a little against the tide, that there is no gender difference in academia and the workplace or I took care to put a shield to become invisible in the face of these challenges, I now realize more and more how important these are stereotypes and for people we would not have imagined. They are so ingrained in social structures that there are few “enlightened” people who can resist abuse and discrimination, especially when they are employers. That is why it is very important to strengthen the legal framework so that arbitrariness is sanctioned.

• What fascinates you about your job?

• Are the “no” or “yes” what have defined your life so far?

Like the end that leads teleologically to a beginning, so many “no’s” hide a great determination. The big “no” I have said were exercises against the fear that makes us voluntarily blind in the face of an impending end. In other words, it was “yes” to me being the bearer of change and not just the receiver.

• Favorite corners in Athens and what is the island you love?

I really love the steps of Didotou st and the small restaurant — bar that is always there like a protected cave in common view. As much as it changes in appearance and owners over the years, it remains the passage or the transition / bridging Exarchia to Kolonaki — and maybe for me a transition between the wanderings of youth to adulthood. The same could be said for the Jazz bar in the area of Dexameni where we enjoyed the first adventures with dear friends from adolescence. Then our descent to Dexameni would lead to endless philosophical and existential discussions, in search of a new generation of the ‘30s.

The island that I adore… as the wonderful Nena Venetsanou says, in lyrics by Stella Chrysoulaki, “What I remember from our islands, are the two snakes that fell in love, under the marbles of the temple, on a summer afternoon in Delos.” I love all our islands, and especially Hydra, thanks to my relationship with the island since the 80 ‘as a member of the ecologists of Hydra. Nevertheless, the islands that bring serinity are the farthest, the ones that take me to the Minoans, the Mysteries and closer to the Middle East, such as Kastelorizo, Samothrace and Gavdos.

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Sozita Goudouna is a curator, adjunct professor at CUNY, and the author of Beckett’s Breath (EUP, 2018). She is head of operations at Raymond Pettibon Studio.

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Sozita Goudouna

Sozita Goudouna

Sozita Goudouna is a curator, adjunct professor at CUNY, and the author of Beckett’s Breath (EUP, 2018). She is head of operations at Raymond Pettibon Studio.

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