To mark the centennial anniversary of the National Gallery in 2000, the original building, and the exhibition spaces in particular, were renovated with EU funding and a generous Stavros Niarchos Foundation grant. The renovation enabled the museum, not only to upgrade its permanent display, but also to develop an ambitious agenda of exhibitions and educational activities, dramatically expanding its audience and attracting some 5.5 million visitors. Addressing the limiting factors in the operation of the old facilities, however, especially the shortage of space, became more and more urgent. In response to repeated requests from the National Gallery’s Director, Marina Lambraki-Plaka, the Ministry of Culture commissioned the original building designers (the architectural practices of professors Pavlos & Konstantinos Mylonas, and Dimitris Fatouros) to prepare a preliminary study, funded by a Maria Tsakos Foundation grant.
International tender for the final designs
The new National Gallery
In 2008, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism organised an international tender for the final designs, awarded to Grammatopoulos –Panousakis Architects Ltd and D. Vassilopoulos & Associates L.P. The project implementation was put out to tender in 2011, awarded to TOMI S.A. (an AKTOR subsidiary). Work began in 2014, and the project was completed in March 2021.
An additional 11,040m2 were added to the 9,720m2 of the original building, more than doubling its operational space to a total of 20,760m2. Additional exhibition space of 2,230m2, modern storerooms of 1,645m2, a 240-seat conference hall, a two-storey library, fully equipped conservation labs, administrative offices, educational facilities, and a large reception hall of 910m2 which houses, in addition to the ticket desk and cloakroom, a large shop and a digital information lounge. There is a second shop on the third floor.
The Foyer is dominated by Panayotis Tetsis’ Street Market (oil on canvas, 2.49×12.15m) – a monumental painting which conveys the democratic nature of art and sends out a clear message: ‘The National Gallery is as open to the whole world as an outdoor market. And just as a farmers’ market is a feast for the senses, art too is a feast for the senses – what Plato called ‘a training of all senses’.
There are also two dining venues in the new museum: Ilissos Café on the courtyard level and Parthenis Café-Restaurant on the third floor of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Wing, with panoramic views to the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus. Modern equipment has been installed in the storerooms and laboratories, the library and administrative offices thanks to donations from organisations and private individuals.
In addition to lifts and staircases, ramp access is available, ensuring walkable access to the upper storeys for all visitors, with stunning views of the city and Mount Lycabettus. The façade of the three-storey B Building (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Wing) is covered by a glass tower, which shelters the ramps while giving a modern, dynamic look to the new museum. Access for people with impaired mobility is provided everywhere. The new museum’s most prominent features are its brightness and openness to the city, its friendly and welcoming nature.
Museological study and a new aesthetic
The museological study for the interiors, commissioned to the architectural practice of Professor Giorgos Parmenidis and his associates, Christine Longuépée and Iphigenia Maris, creates an ambiance of understated elegance in the interiors of the new museum. The sumptuous wood panelling, the winning combination of natural and artificial lighting, and the ingenious management of exhibition space all ensure an ideal environment for displaying art. The expansion of available gallery space enabled the display of approximately one thousand paintings; moreover, drawings and prints went on public display for the first time.
The museological study for the display of modern Greek art was prepared by the Director, Marina Lambraki-Plaka. The curators Maria Katsanaki (Nineteenth Century), Zina Kaloudi (Early Twentieth Century and Interwar Period), Lina Tsikouta (Post-War Art – Contemporary Art), and Katerina Tavantzi for Modern Greek Printmaking collaborated in the implementation of the study. The exhibition wall texts were prepared by the Director, Marina Lambraki-Plaka. The museological study and wall texts for the Western European Collection were prepared by Efi Agathonikou, Head of EPMAS Collections.
The National Gallery was founded in 1900; yet its institutional age of 120 does not reflect its actual age, which is determined by the treasures in its collections. And these treasures belong mainly to modern Greek art – which is of the same age as modern Greece itself, for they were born, evolved, and matured in parallel. In this respect, the National Gallery can and should be seen as an exemplary institution for national self-awareness. With this in mind, the museological study sought to highlight the interrelationship between art and the Greek society and history.
Digital infrastructure for the new EPMAS
A substantial grant from Public Investments enabled the new EPMAS to procure the equipment and digital expertise needed to support the open educational mission of a modern museum and to promote public engagement. The new, digital National Gallery was thus able to put to good use all its available digital content.
This project was financed by the NSRF, Public Investments, the Attica Region, and a large (13€ million) Stavros Niarchos Foundation grant personally secured by the Director, Marina Lambraki-Plaka. Building B of the new museum was named The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Wing in honour of our donor. Significant additional donations, also secured through the director’s personal efforts, enabled the new museum to be fully equipped with modern technology. The major donors are Antonios E. Komninos Foundation, Onassis Foundation, Theodore and Emmanuella Vassilakis, Basil and Marina Theocharakis, and Dorothy Latsis. Five galleries in the new museum will be named after the donors in perpetuity as an expression of gratitude.
The supervision of the project was carried out with great care by the technical services of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (General Directorate for Restoration, Museums and Technical Works). Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni accelerated the completion of the project, not only by securing all necessary funds, but also by personally keeping track of the project on a weekly basis.
The completion of the project was facilitated by the decision of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to link the opening of the new museum with the launch of the celebrations to mark the bicentennial anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence. The opening ceremony was held in the new National Gallery –Alexandros Soutsos Museum Foyer on 24 March 2021, in the presence of distinguished foreign guests.
The inspired design of the new National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum impacts, not only its operation but also its appearance, updating it to twenty-first-century museum design and style standards. The impressive new, state-of-the-art museum has now opened its doors, and public response has been overwhelming, with more than one thousand visitors coming to admire the new display of the collections every day. Intertwined with modern Greece, Greek art reached a great maturity in only a few decades. Greek artists, who rightly claim a place in the history of world art, at last have a home worthy of them.