“Art Refugees” Join Kara Walker on Dakis Joannou’s Pleasure Island to End the So-Called Superkunstyear

The event marked the end of a particularly packed art-world agenda, which kicked off in April with the opening of documenta 14 in Athens.

Even in a highly touristed city, you can spot a member of the art world from a mile away. On the tiny island of Hydra in Greece’s Argo Saronic Gulf, the giveaways include biennial-branded tote bags and tailored navy-blue blazers worn in the dead of summer.

Hundreds of these tote-toting types, from artists Maurizio Cattelan and David Shrigley to curator Cecilia Alemani and architect Elizabeth Diller,arrived on Hydra this week by ferry and private yacht for the epic beachside vernissage hosted annually by Greek collector Dakis Joannou. The party marks the opening of the summer exhibition at his DESTE Foundation’s project space, housed in a former slaughterhouse and perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Aegean.

This year, the space had been given over to Figa, the disembodied left hand and sole remnant of the giant sugar sphinx at the center of Kara Walker’s groundbreaking public sculpture installation, A Subtlety. Sculpted with its thumb pinched between its index and middle fingers, the hand is fashioned into the ancient “fig” gesture, a profane symbol of fertility; the rest of the sphinx was destroyed after its debut at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn in 2014.

Joannou’s party regularly marks the very last stop on the art world’s annual calendar, and this year had the special distinction of being a “superkunstyear.“ It’s a term that describes a kind of art-world blue moon in which the stars align and the quinquennial documenta coincides with the Venice Biennale and decennial public sculpture exhibition Skulptur Projekte Münster.

In Greece this week, the migration came full circle. It had begun in Athens with the first portion of documenta, which opened in April. Now, Joannou’s party marked the beginning of the end—or at least “the start of me not having to do anything specific,” as Venice-based exhibition manager Alessandro Possati put it at the party on Monday night. He had hit every mark on the protracted European tour, with additional detours to both Copenhagen and Zürich somehow squeezed between Basel and Hydra, and was exhausted and partially filled with regret.

“You might go somewhere everyone is raving about and realize it’s not worth going to everything and the kitchen sink,” Possati said. “I wish somebody had told me some parts of Germany were less…,” he began to say, unsure of where that sentence should go. (By then, we were already three hours and an unknown number of glasses of wine into the party.)

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