Greece’s National Museum of Contemporary Art has been established by law as a cultural entity in 1997. However, 19 years later, the elusive museum has not opened its doors yet.
It is one of the cases where we Greeks say, “these things happen in Greece only”. The museum as a name started operating in 2000 holding exhibitions in various temporary places.
The building of NMCA is an impressive structure on busy Syngrou Avenue, a road that connects downtown Athens with the gorgeous coastline a few kilometers south. A former brewery established in 1957, it is located about one kilometer away from the Acropolis Museum, voted in the world’s top five.
Even though the seven-story building is ready, taking up an entire block, the entrance is still surrounded by corrugated fencing. It sits ideally next to a metro train stop.The reasons the museum does not operate yet are typically Greek: bureaucracy, internal bickering and state inertia.
In 2014, when the renovation was completed at a cost of 34 million euros and the museum was ready to accept visitors, an acrimonious war between the director and the board started. Lawsuits and verbal accusations were exchanged at the expense of the museum. And since in Greece everyone is right and no one is wrong, the war continued at the expense of the museum.
The new government in 2015 failed to address the issue. The new culture minister, after the cabinet reshuffling last September, appointed a new director but found out there were no funds to staff the museum. A 3-million-euro donation from the Niarchos Foundation was withdrawn in November after the new ministry of culture showed no initiative to open the museum. Ironically, the culture ministry had promised the grand opening in November 2015, but no action was taken to that end.
Next year, the prestigious international art exhibition Documenta will take place in Greece. Ideally it will be housed in the NMCA. Its theme is “Learning from Athens”. But who would bet money that it will be housed where it should.