Old brewery becomes Contemporary Art Museum May 21 2015

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The National Museum of Contemporary Art
In 2000 The National Museum of Contemporary Art was officially given responsibility for the nation’s modern foreign and Greek works; for the next 14 years the collections were housed in various locations. Meanwhile the collection was growing acquiring works by  well-known Greek artists (such as Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Bia Davou and Theodoros Stamos) and renowned international contemporary artists (among them Nan Goldin, Sophie Calle, and Marina Abramovic). It soon became clear that a new gallery was a matter of urgency and the hunt began for an appropriate site.

The building
The abandoned old Fix Brewery with its striking architecture and spectacular location was soon considered as the best choice.  Built in 1893 the brewery was redesigned in 1957 by the architect Takis Zenetos (1926 – 1977). Zenetos constructed a concrete shell supported by a grid of reinforced concrete columns giving to the building a striking monumental design which had often led it to be referred to as an industrial cathedral or a horizontal skyscraper. The façade is cut along its entire length by horizontal windows to allow rooms to be lit equally. This design recalls the industrial “ocean-liner” aesthetic that Le Corbusier much admired.

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The 1957 Fix brewery building, in its heyday. Photo: National Museum of Contemporary Art

The architecture
The new museum, which will incorporate the former brewery, will feature 7,000 square meters of exhibition space as well as a lecture hall, café, library, and a few workshop spaces including on-site labs that can process artists’ digital work. When considering the rehabilitation of the industrial building, 3SK Stylianidis Architects chose to preserve the iconic Syngrou Avenue façade while the Kallirrhoe Street façade was dressed in limestone. According to the architects, this gesture, portraying the topography of the riverbed, is a poetic reminder of the river that used to flow there. Inside the museum the architects have opted for the honest brutality of concrete as a cohesive force. The dialectic that exists between the preserved original components and those from the new era is one of the most remarkable (and controversial) features of the new museum [1].

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The recently revealed façade on Kallirrhoe Street has been covered in stone to recall the bed of the Ilissus river that once flowed next to it. Photo: 3SK Stylianidis Architects

Fix Hellas
Fix beer is almost as old as the modern Greek state. When the crown of the newly formed state of Greece was offered to the Bavarian prince Otto in 1832, a large contingent of Bavarian architects, bureaucrats, professors and soldiers arrived with him. Amongst those Bavarians was Johan Ludwig Fuchs, who founded a small brewery at Neon Herakleion, a Bavarian settlement on the outskirts of Athens. In 1864 Johan’s son Charles Fuchs founded the Fix Brewery in Athens. The name was mispronounced by the Greeks and eventually the “creative” spelling prevailed over the traditional. In 1893 a big, steam-powered factory was founded on Syngrou Avenue [2]. In the 1950s the Fuchs family decided to construct new premises and appointed Takis Zenetos to design them. The company moved out of the building in 1970 and the factory was in disuse ever since. In 1994 it was partially demolished to make space for a subway station. The remaining part of the building was listed as a heritage site and a few years later it was decided that it should host the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

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The FIX brewery at the end of the Nineteenth Century

The sleeping giant
The National Museum of Contemporary Art’s new building has been complete since February 2014, with a budget of 33.7 million euro, co-financed by Greece and the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, but remains closed to the public due to bureaucracy and luck of funding. Other museums have crowdfunded successfully (the Tesla Museum raised $1.3 million in a month, while the Rubin Museum expanded their Tibetan shrine room with the help of $52,000), yet despite the dire financial straits the museum is facing, they haven’t explored such possibilities [3].

Vangelis Stylianidis, one of the architects responsible for the project, says the building will soon need substantial maintenance because it has been left unoccupied for so long, while he describes the empty museum as a “ghost in the city” [4].

Written by: Nicolas Nicolaides

End notes
[1] Kanelia Koutsandrea, “Urban frame no1: The amputated Fix brewery and the National Museum of Contemporary Art of Athens”, Athens as a poem, Retrieved 24/3/2016.

[2] Δημήτρης Χαροντάκης, “ΦΙΞ: Tο επώνυμο που είναι συνώνυμο με την μπίρα”, To Βήμα, Retrieved 24/3/2016.

[3]Nadja Sayej, “11 Years On: When Will the Athens Museum of Contemporary Art Open?”, Artslant.com, Retrieved 24/3/2016.

[4] Photini Barka, “A tale fit for Homer: the decade-long odyssey of Athens’s National Museum of Contemporary Art”, The Art Newspaper, Retrieved 24/3/2016.

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