On the Greek island of Hydra, after the party, Jeff Koons unveils a monument to the sun and friendship

Since 2009, Athens-based super-collector Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation has held annual exhibitions in the Abattoir, a project space perched on a cliff on the Saronic island of Hydra. Every summer, the vernissage functions as a kind of after-party at Art Basel where after the first days of the fair, “collectors, curators and gallery owners come to this small island with no cars allowed, only donkeys”, Constantinos Tsetsos from Athens gallery Dio Horia told me. They come to Hydra for the art, then stay to swim on its beaches.

“This year is really special,” he added, as after two years of pandemic cancellations, Deste’s summer party returned on Monday with “Apollo, an exhibition by Jeff Koons to see until October 31. (The foundation space in Athens also recently opened a new exhibition in honor of the late Kaari Upson.) colorful patterns on the facade of the luxury yacht that Joannou moors in Hydra port.

Jeff Koon, Apollo2022. Photograph by Sophia Cohen.

The evening was, indisputably, a scene: as the sun set on the eve of the summer solstice, as the light faded from shades of gold to purple to black, hundreds of people had crowded the dirt road leading to the tiny building in stone. They were a mix of art world elites dressed in designer clothes, island tourists and various big-name artists including Maurizio Cattelan, KAWS, Martin Creed and Sue Webster. While a handful of VIPs were asked to descend the steep cliff to get ahead of the queue, most visitors waited up to 45 minutes to enter.

Inside, they discovered what Koons had been keeping secret for two years: his plan to turn the slaughterhouse into a temple, where its once sparse stone interior is newly tiled with mosaic floors and painted with classical frescoes. He has planted a huge golden sun on the roof, the rays of which spin in the wind like a pinwheel. Outside the entrance on opening night, incense was burning, goats were caged between stone stalls and a young man was dressed in an ancient Greek-style tunic. A worn wooden table with a urinal, a bicycle wheel and a plate of fresh produce koulouri read like an altar for Apollo or Marcel Duchamp.

In a mix of cultural symbols from different times and places, the centerpiece was a colorful statue of Apollo himself, the Greek god of knowledge, the arts and the sun. He stood naked on a podium holding a Kithara, and rather than white marble, her skin had the tan plastic finish of a Ken doll. He was accompanied by a real woman standing as still as a statue and an animatronic albino snake moving too much like the real thing. “I was scared, I thought it was real,” said artist Maja Djordjevic. Late at night over drinks, several others told me the same thing.

There was no accompanying text or press release to unpack what anyone had seen, leaving everything open to interpretation. At least two women mentioned that the albino snake reminded them of a specific Britney Spears performance on MTV, and wondered: Was that Koons’ pop culture reference? When I visited, Britney Spears’ single “Piece of Me,” reduced to her vocals, played inside the facility and sounded like a religious chant. The sun on the roof could have been a reference to Apollo as the sun god, or to Koons’ declared fascination with lawn ornaments, or, as a few Swiss visitors have pointed out, to the official logo of St. Moritz. . Two of my friends bought matching sun necklaces, a staple in local souvenir shops, to commemorate the event. Their purchases resonated with what the artist had said during a panel discussion in Athens the previous Friday, describing the installation as a tribute to his relationship with Joannou: “It’s really about celebrating the power of art and friendship”.

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Joseph K. Bennett