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Athens, a walk through art and good food with Gian Paolo Venier
The Italian designer and art director reveals his favourite places in the Greek capital, a city he feels he has known forever
The Italian Gian Paolo Venier, portrayed in his Greece-inspired temporary installation Hypernature, on the rooftop of Senato Hotel Milano - photo Andrew Habeck
Despite the turmoil of the recession and the presence of the Acropolis overlooking the city as a daily reminder of the city’s great past, Athens does not give up and constantly twitches.
From restaurants set on trendy rooftops to experimental Greek cuisine and alternative art spaces, Italian art director and designer Gian Paolo Venier guides us through the city he feels he has known forever.
Rick Lowe, Victoria Square Project, 2017–18, social sculpture, Elpidos 13, Victoria Square, Athens, documenta 14 - photo © Freddie F., courtesy of Documenta 14
What attracted you to Athens in the first place?
Initially, the city was nothing more than a passing point to reach the Cyclades Islands, where I love to spend my summer vacations. Then unexpectedly something attracted my curiosity and redesigned my relation with the city. Suddenly, I was eager to discover its ever-changing aspects between past and present. I was particularly struck by the strong sense of belonging of its inhabitants and the proud-to-be-Greek way of life, an approach that touches everything, from the food to the monuments and the language.
Could you describe the general atmosphere of the city since the recession?
Athens went through very dark times. Yet, new good vibes - that go in hand with the desire to re-invent and create - are rapidly spreading across the city. For instance, the fact that Documenta took place in Athens this year was not a coincidence and seems to demonstrate the ongoing revival of the Greek capital.
Otobong Nkanga, Carved to Flow, 2017, laboratory installation and natural soap O8, installation view, Archimidous 15, Athens, documenta 14 - photo © Stathis Mamalakis, courtesy of Documenta 14
Is there a place in particular that inspires you in Athens?
A spot that I particularly enjoy going to over and over again is the port of the Piraeus: the door to the Cyclades Islands, a true invitation to wanderlust. Yet, for another kind of voyage, I also like visiting the TAF (The Art Foundation) - an alternative cultural platform established in an abandoned building in the heart of the Monastiraki neighbourhood - that regularly organises performances and experimental exhibitions. The venue also features a great café set in the inner courtyard.
One of the exhibition rooms of the TAF - photo courtesy TAF
The caffé in the internal courtyard of the TAF - photo courtesy TAF
What is the best design pastry in town?
I will mention not one but two places. The Sweet Alchemy - realised by Kois Associated Architects for Stelios Parliaros, one the world's best known Greek pastry chef - is definitely worth a visit. The other one is the last shop designed by Italian designer Paola Navone for the chain Fresh Patisserie, an interior defined by colours and extravagance.
Set inside the City Circus Hostel the Zampano bistro interior design was developed by Sicilian duo Maurizio & Giuseppe Alito - photo courtesy Zampano
Where would you go for a quick and healthy lunch?
Most probably to Zampano, a bistro & wine bar serving Greek fresh food all day long and located on the ground floor of the now famous City Circus Hostel. The whole place offers an interesting dialogue between the neoclassical architecture typical of the Psirri theater district and the interior design of the Sicilian duo Maurizio & Giuseppe Alito. For an outstanding view on the Acropolis, the rooftop restaurant of the Fresh Hotel is another exquisite location, although less casual.
The restaurant on the rooftop of the Fresh Hotel - photo courtesy Fresh Hotel
Where to shop vintage furniture and objects?
Close to the municipal market, on Athinas Street, there are a lot of small shops selling unexpected objects. Step in! It is really worth it. The experience is quite unique and the findings usually prove to be exciting. Last summer I found a set of large glass ampoules which I brought back to Italy in my suitcase and later turned into a large six-arm lamp for one of my customer's home.
Veranda with a view at the Funky Gourmet - photo courtesy Funky Gourmet
Could you recommend a spot with a view for a gourmet dinner?
For sure, the Funky Gourmet which offers a true exquisite experience of the Greek cuisine, yet with an experimental twist. The restaurant is located in a small neoclassical building in the Keramikos district - one of the most vibrant areas of Athens - and features a large veranda on the upperfloor.
Work brings you to Athens quite often: which projects are you currently developing that involve Greece?
Many projects! Last year we started our collaboration with the contract furniture brand MIA Collections - with which we realised a temporary installation on the rooftop of Senato Hotel Milano - for which we are now developing a new family of furnishings that will be presented at the next Salone. Also, during the next Milanese Design Week we will launch two vases collections realised with UrbiEtOrbi - a producer of concrete complements - and with Kerameio - a small ceramics workshop on the island of Serifos. All these collaborations were born out of fortunate encounters in the Greek capital: the country is willing to produce and create and they do not miss the know-how!
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