Founded in 2010 by Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte and Quentin Moyse, contemporary art gallery Carwan will relocate from its decade-long home in Beirut to a new 1,200-square-foot space in the historic port of Athens this September. “It was not an easy time to leave Beirut,” Bellavance-Lecompte tells AD. “But even a year ago the economy had started to slow, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for our clients to visit the gallery.” He adds that the cities share a similar feel and are only a one-hour flight apart. That, and the hope of more streamlined operations, helped seal the deal. But perhaps most important, he stresses, “I believe Greece is the new cultural capital of Europe.”
Carwan plans to host six solo shows of Greek designers in 2021 to demonstrate its commitment to new and established local talent. The goal is to launch the city’s design scene as the brand similarly did in Beirut in the 2010s. First Carwan will debut “113,” a solo exhibition of more than 100 unique sculptural works handmade in Vancouver by multidisciplinary artist and designer Omer Arbel, who explores in this series the relationship between copper alloys and glass.
“When grouped together, the 113s somehow attain an archaic quality, evocative of archaeological remains,” Arbel comments to AD PRO. “This seems appropriate given the Athenian context.” Set under the gallery’s soaring 40-foot high ceilings, the experience is a “holy-like feast for the eyes,” according to Bellavance-Lecompte.
Originally, Bellavance-Lecompte and Moyse had planned to introduce Carwan in June post–Art Basel, but were delayed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The nearby DESTE Foundation also encountered delays, pushing back its highly anticipated Jeff Koons show to 2021. Also in the area is a new Gagosian gallery, set to launch September 24 with an exhibition by American painter Brice Marden. Gagosian has had a presence in Athens since 2009 and has “seen a growing commitment from local collectors and [an increased] interest from our artists to show their work in the city in dialogue with ancient Greek art,” Gagosian Athens director Christina Papadopoulou explains to AD PRO.
The Gagosian space—in a larger, freestanding Art Deco building renovated by Greek architect Stelios Kois—“enables us to establish a new presence while continuing our engagement with the local art scene,” adds Papadopoulou. “More than ever, international artists are interested in the vibrant city of Athens.”
The Carwan team first learned of its new home from international curator Artemis Baltoyanni, whose next-door project exhibition space, The Intermission, invites contemporary artists to showcase their work. According to Bellavance-Lecomte, it was Baltoyanni who convinced Carwan to open in the bustling neighborhood.
“It is extremely important to be inspired by a sense of place and to create an interesting environment for presentation,” says Bellavance-Lecomte, who is currently spending time in both Sicily and Athens. “You experience a bit of déjà vu in cities like Paris and London where there’s an abundance of excellent and established galleries. Athens feels fresh, new, and exciting. I always use myself as an example—if I like it, then I believe everyone else will love it too.”