Hydra in New York Times

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Hydra in New York Times

Post by dick » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:02 am

http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/tr ... ref=travel
Published: August 12, 2011

THE long communal table stretched out down a craggy path overlooking the Aegean Sea. It had the cluttered look of a Renaissance painting, with remnants of grilled lamb, carafes of wine and abundant cutlery. But the overall effect was more minimalist; the sky was black save for a string of white party lights affixed to a telephone pole illuminating a barren hillside of rocks and prickly shrubs.

The contrast could not have been lost on the 300 or so art-world habitués who had gathered on the small island of Hydra in Greece on an early summer night. The artists Brice Marden and Maurizio Cattelan were there; so was the actress Chloë Sevigny, not to mention countless art collectors and curators. Guests were dressed in party attire suitable for a balmy Mediterranean night: shoulder-baring black dresses, linen suits, T-shirts.

They had made the trek by plane and hydrofoil for what has become one of the more coveted invitations on the art calendar: the opening party for the Slaughterhouse, an art space owned by Dakis Joannou, the Greek Cypriot billionaire and collector.

Hydra is only 120 miles from Athens, one of the easiest Greek isles to reach. In many ways it is what it appears to be: a quaint tourist island, with jewelry and gift shops and overpriced Wi-Fi cafes flanking the horseshoe-shaped port.

But the island has also become a stronghold of contemporary art. Tucked into the town are several world-class contemporary art spaces, found on the labyrinthine back streets or in repurposed commercial buildings. In addition to the Slaughterhouse, which used to be just that, there’s the Hydra School Projects, a pop-up in the local high school; and the Hydra Workshop, a gallery run by the collector Pauline Karpidas in an old ship-repair garage of a mansion once belonging to the Bulgari family. (This year’s show at the Hydra Workshop features the Los Angeles artists Matt Johnson, Frank Benson and Mark Grotjahn.)

Hydra didn’t become an art-world mecca overnight; the buzz has been building for the last few years. With the opening of Slaughterhouse in 2009, coupled with the growing influence of Hydra School Projects and Hydra Workshop, the island has earned itself a spot on the summer art tour, attracting many of the same pilgrims who go to Art Basel and biennales.

Long before the galleries and celebrity-studded openings, though, Hydra was a refuge for artists and intellectuals. The writers Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell came to stay with the painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas at his family’s mansion in the late 1930s. (Miller compared the island to a “huge loaf of petrified bread” in his travel book “The Colossus of Maroussi.”)

The singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen bought a home here in the 1960s and a rush of creative types followed him: poets, artists and musicians, who thronged the open-air tavernas at night and set up communal houses in the decrepit mansions.

More recently the appeal for artists has been the large number of generous collectors who have homes on the island, sponsor artist residencies and give lavish parties. Mr. Joannou said collectors chose Hydra because of its bohemian past and its architecture, which is grander than that of most Hellenic islands. In the 18th century Hydra was filled with wealthy merchants, admirals and sea captains who built mini stone palazzos in the Venetian style, which now flank the hills around the port like couture-clad sentries.

Most of the hotels and guest houses on Hydra have been around for a long time but don’t seem outdated. They exude a Bohemian sensibility with their overgrown gardens and mix of minimalist-style architecture and airy interiors, casually decorated with antiques left over from the island’s heyday.

Many in the art crowd can be found at the Miranda, a converted sea captain’s mansion with 14 suites, and at the more upscale Bratsera, a minimalist boutique hotel in a former sponge factory. (Sponges were the island’s main industry in the 1940s and ’50s, as immortalized by Sophia Loren, who played a sexy local sponge-diver in the 1957 film “Boy on a Dolphin.”)

Wander Bratsera’s grounds and you will notice art projects, like the olive tree by the swimming pool covered in tiny Chinese characters, an installation by Charwei Tsai.

“Hydra is a different type of inspiring,” said Nate Lowman, a New York City artist who visits frequently. “To be able to see art exhibited on an island, a place where you can’t even put toilet paper in the toilet because it clogs, really changed my world.”

Mr. Joannou, who commutes from Athens aboard his yacht, which was decorated by the artist Jeff Koons with bright graphics, agreed.

“Hydra is not arty in the conventional way,” he said. “It’s not Williamsburg with artists living on the cheap or the Hamptons with its crazy parties. It’s a small-scale community kind of place; very friendly with groups of people going out to the tavern to eat.”

And its art scene lasts only for the summer; as soon as the cool weather rolls in come September, the island reverts to its simple, quiet self, with a population of about 3,000.

Cars, motorbikes and bicycles are banned from the island, which gives it a charmingly primitive feel. Water taxis that speed up and down the rocky coast are the main source of transportation, shuttling passengers to hard-to-reach beaches and restaurants in remote villages.

At the main port, donkeys with carnations tucked behind their ears and human-pulled trolleys wait to haul luggage and supplies up the winding cobblestone streets. It’s not uncommon to see donkeys carrying crates of valuable artwork up bumpy paths to the art spaces. (There are five garbage trucks on the island — they come out only in the wee hours — but otherwise there’s no automotive cheating.)

The slow pace of life on the island seems to have an effect on the mind. Spend a week on Hydra and normal things begin to seem conceptual. The artist Doug Aitken said an abandoned fishing barge in the middle of the harbor “resembled a perfect sculpture.” A local fisherman with a bushy handlebar mustache looked as if he had stepped out of the last century. But he had art credentials, too: he had acted in a Matthew Barney project for Slaughterhouse a couple of years ago.
“Hydra has this special thing of feeling primitive without really being primitive,” said Mr. Marden, who bought a home on the island in the 1970s. His future wife had been staying on Spetses, nearby, he said, and “she noticed all the cool people getting off in Hydra, so we decided to come check it out.”

Mr. Marden has produced several series of paintings inspired by the island.

“I’m interested in where civilization went wrong,” he said one morning at the Pirate Bar, an artists’ hangout, sipping on rocket-fuel-strength café fredo (iced cappuccino topped with thick, sweet, addictive foam).

Mr. Marden was waiting for a water taxi to take him and his family to Limioniza, a remote beach on the uninhabited south side of the island, for a swim. (You can walk there too, but you must cross the steep Mount Eros, and it takes several hours.) Nature excursions and treks to hillside monasteries, seaside villages and remote beaches are something of a ritualistic pastime on Hydra and nearly always a group effort. In the Mediterranean, everything — from swimming to soul searching — is done with an entourage.

The Hydra School Projects, known for exhibitions of emerging artists, is among the mansions in the hills behind the port. I climbed hundreds of little stone stairs lined with bougainvillea, blue plumbago and friendly stray cats lounging in the shade.

A group of schoolgirls pointed in the direction of an ornate white stone building trimmed in pale green. The exhibition was arranged in the classrooms. In one were nude photographs of the model Kristen McMenamy by Juergen Teller. In another Mark Borthwick, a Brooklyn artist, stood in a sarong and sneakers, strumming a guitar with his long, picklike fingernails as part of an installation for his film “Poet’tree.” About a dozen or so people were watching, a mix of in-the-know art hunters and passersby in sturdy walking shoes who seemed pleased with their discovery.

The island is at its most social at dinnertime, around 10 p.m., when the alleyways around the port begin to buzz. Dimitrios Antonitsis, the founder of Hydra School Projects, and a group of artists were seated up on the vine-covered terrace of a taverna, Gitoniko, run by a local couple, Christina and Manolis. The home-cooked cuisine is among the island’s finest; platters of eggplant salad; grape leaves stuffed with raisins, pine nuts and cinnamon; and grilled locally caught calamari.

The artists, several of whom were Greek, spoke of the country’s economic crisis, which is not perceptible in Hydra except when the ferry companies go on strike. “Athens is burning, but on Hydra all is calmness and pretty pictures,” said Konstantinos Skarmoutsos, a jewelry designer from Athens.

After dinner the group wandered. Every path seemed to lead to a small taverna with clusters of outdoor tables and guitar players crooning ballads. At the Pirate Bar, one of our party ran into an artist friend from London, who invited us to join her table. A carafe of wine arrived, and another, and soon it was 4 a.m. A typical night on Hydra.

"It's four in the morning......." :-)
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Re: Hydra in New York Times

Post by jazz4111 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:40 am

I get the NYT Sunday edition delivered and enjoyed reading this article BUT Hydra is 37 nautical miles from Athens - no where near 120 miles away - even if yo u were driving by car to Ermioni and taking a water taxi across!
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