ATHENS – The Grand Reopening of the National Gallery of Art – `the Ethniki Pinakothiki' proves that in Greece, things a long time coming are worth the wait.
While COVID kept away many of the bright lights of the art world, foreign officials, celebrities, and most of all, citizens who looked forward to this day for many years, a sense of celebration prevailed during the grand re-opening March 24, the night before the Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution.
The impressive architectural renovation and expansion does justice to the hope that locals, Greeks from all over the country, and visitors from abroad will flock to enjoy the museum's permanent and temporary exhibitions, pausing between viewing renowned and lesser known but worthy works for refreshments and dining at the Ilisos café at ground level and the Parthenis rooftop restaurant and café which promises spectacular views of the environs and the not-too-distant Acropolis. They will also be open outside museum hours.
With art and culture no less than its famed sun and seas indelible parts of Greece's brand, the closure of the National Gallery and the storage of its artworks for more than a decade was strongly felt, although Athens has been graced with some exceptional new though smaller art museums since the renovation project began in 2011.
At the reopening Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said, according to Tornos NEWS that March 25, 2021 "was a deadline set by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in August 2019," when his New Democracy party came to power after snap elections.
Addressing the guests, Mitsotakis called the updated and expanded Gallery of Art “an emblematic cultural landmark that meets a unique historical milestone." The Prime Minister has declared the museum “spectacular,” noting that it “reflects the love for a museum that symbolizes the history of the modern Greek State,” Kathimerini reported.
Also speaking were Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of the Hellenic Republic, and Gallery Director Marina Lambraki-Plaka, who said "the founders of the free Greek state realized very early that the arts and sciences are the foundation of a modern European state, in particular when this state has a heritage going back to antiquity."
The renovation, which cost $70 million, doubled the museum's size. Its collection now totals 20,000 works, a fraction of which will be on display at any given time in the 21,000 square meters which include exhibition halls, storage space, an amphitheater, and a library. There are also state-of-the-art conservation laboratories.
Mitsotakis informed that the project was partly funded by private donations, especially from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, whose name adorns the wing that houses the main collection.
Given COVID restrictions, the guests consisted mainly of representatives of the countries that were important for the Greek Revolution: France, Great Britain, and Russia. Among the attendees were Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Russian Federation Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. France was represented by its Ambassador, Patrick Maisonneuve and Louvre Museum President Jean-Luc Martinez. French Defense Minister Florence Parly, representing President Emmanuel Macron, was to arrive later. The president of the committee `Greece 2021' Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and her spouse Theodoros Angelopoulos were also present.
When the museum opens to the general public in June, visitors will be greeted by the delightful `Walking Man, on a Column' by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, not far from a new ornamental canal. According to Kathimerini, visitors' experience of the museum has been enhanced by its having been “fitted out with wooden furniture, integrated touch screens, and large panels on which videos of the exhibits” will be playing.