In a recent trip to Athens, I had the pleasure to meet with George Stathopoulos, a leading tax and corporate attorney whose true passion is collecting and curating art. George Stathopoulos has spent over 30 years organizing exhibitions globally as a way of promoting Greek art and introducing Greek artists to an international audience. His curatorial work includes exhibitions at The Musée d’Art NaÏf Max Fourny (Paris, France), Princeton University, The National Arts Club (New York, NY), the Bank of America (Athens, Greece), and seven exhibitions at Belgravia Gallery (London, UK). A totally different project and one of his major achievements is the 2014 installation of the George Zongolopoulos sculpture “Poseidon” on the George Washington University campus. His passion and commitment in promoting Greek art was palpable throughout our conversation.
Lilia Ziamou: Your interest in art. How it started and how it evolved.
George Stathopoulos: My interest in art started when I took an elective course in Art History at the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. I found the course fascinating and felt that I wanted to know more about art. While in Washington D.C. as a Law student at the George Washington University, I often visited the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection and other museums and started to become more and more aware of art. This interest evolved while working in Amsterdam, where I was introduced to the work of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and other Dutch masters. Then my three years in Brussels gave me exposure to contemporary art, and from Brussels I frequently visited France and Germany to explore the art scene. Finally, back in Athens in the early seventies, I became familiar with the work of Greek contemporary artists. Eventually, my interest in art became a priority. My first purchase of an artwork was in the early seventies in Paris, in Montmartre. Then, during my travels to various European cities as legal counsel, I started collecting the work of European artists and after moving back to Greece I became increasingly interested in the work of Greek contemporary artists. I got to know the artists on a personal level. It is exciting to be with them. They have interesting things to say and I admire them. While collecting, I started to curate exhibitions of contemporary Greek art, first in Greece, and later abroad, in order to establish an international presence for Greek art.
Lilia Ziamou: You are interested in giving international exposure to contemporary Greek art. Tell us more about it.
George Stathopoulos: My vision is to make Greek art better known abroad, beyond the Greek borders. I feel and believe that Greek contemporary art is of high quality and should be exhibited abroad. What has been lacking is promoting Greek art to foreign art enthusiasts and collectors. Unfortunately, there is no well-organized public Greek authority that promotes Greek art. Also, Greek galleries, with a few exceptions, do not participate in international art fairs such as Art Basel, Frieze and the Armory. This, of course, is also closely related to the financial crisis but the result is that the Greek contemporary art scene is less visible than let’s say the Italian or German art scenes. I feel that showing Greek art abroad will present Greece in new, favorable ways. This gives me great satisfaction, because I am first and foremost Greek, and Greece has so much that is great.
Lilia Ziamou: What is your curatorial approach?
George Stathopoulos: My curatorial approach starts with the selection of the group of artists that I want to work with. I am drawn primarily to representational art although I find myself constantly developing new areas of interest. The works included in an exhibition need to fit together artistically, complement each other, and at the same time be compatible in character. I am always searching for the right gallery, art center or museum for the artists I work with. This is challenging. Once I have secured the location for the exhibition, I look for a sponsor, to cover the shipment of the artworks, travel expenses for the artists, and promotional costs. Usually, more than one sponsor is necessary. It is an all-encompassing process to put up a successful exhibition abroad. Media coverage, catalogs, invitations and invitation lists, and of course shipping and insurance of the works are all vital parts of the process. My wife Margaret, who is an excellent photographer, helps with the photography so we have quite a complete coverage! It is a lot of work but it is well worth all the effort.
Lilia Ziamou: You have been very successful with securing funding for the exhibitions you have been curating. What are the challenges today?
George Stathopoulos: This was true for the years prior to the Greek financial crisis of 2008. Up to then it was relatively easy to find sponsors. Since the economic crisis, finding sponsors has become extremely difficult. In fact, about four years ago I had to cancel a unique opportunity at the European Parliament in Brussels because the sponsor backed out at the last minute “because of the crisis”. For my most recent exhibition, the shipment of the artworks was sponsored by MARS Hellas Company. But overall, sponsorship in Greece is difficult because there are no tax incentives for a company to fund cultural projects, as it is the case in most other countries.
Lilia Ziamou: Any concluding thoughts?
George Stathopoulos: I have been inspired by a quotation I read in my early twenties, by Elbert Hubbard, and I always like to share it. “The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it; so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it…A little more persistence, a little more effort and what seemed failure may turn to glorious success… There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within….”
The transcribed text has been edited for length and clarity.
Lilia Ziamou is a visual artist based in New York