When discussing the story of the two biggest Greek Ship Tycoons – Aristotelis Onassis and Stavros Niarchos – one may come to realize it is solid soap-opera material. If one thinks of Onassis’ fortune, it is necessary to comprehend the institutional and infrastructural heritage Aristotelis Onassis left. The same goes for Stavros Niarchos, the second agent of this money-power-fame equation. Their oeuvre expands, among others, through extended connections with each other, even if it is usually understood that they had a hate-love relationship, based on the naval industry and their personal life.
The shift of this battle to love affairs was initiated when Onassis and Niarchos married the Livanos Sisters, heirs to Stavros G. Livanos’ big fortune. When Onassis married Athina and Niarchos her sister, Evgenia, they both became sons-in-law of a world shipping magnate at the time.
Athina bore the only two children of Onassis, Alexandros, and Christina, while Evgenia bore four children of Niarchos, Philip, Spyros, Konstantinos, and Maria. In 1970, Evgenia was found dead on the private island of the family, Spetsopoula, probably from an overdose of barbiturates. Her sister, subsequently, married the ex-brother-in-law and widower of her sister Stavros Niarchos. She would be found dead as well due to a lung infection and a speculated overdose of barbiturates in 1974. She had divorced Onassis after he had started an affair with Maria Kallas, followed by a marriage in 1968 with Jackie Kennedy, widow of the President of the U.S.A. The power game of high-class wife and affairs was somehow evened when Stavros Niarchos married one of the heirs of the Ford family, the trophy-wife Charlotte Ford.
This high-paced competition is still alive today through the inherited institutions Niarchos and Onassis founded in Greece. Their approach is always around the notions of bigger and lusher, expensive and populist, art-related and hollow. Stavros Niarchos Foundation is completing this year the National Opera and the National Library of Greece, in Athens, by Renzo Piano, while the Onassis Foundation, holds the Onassis Cardiac Center in their portfolio and Stegi, the Cultural Center of Onassis Foundation. Their topography is quite merged, all of them being on Syggrou Avenue, Athens.
The activities of these institutions are extended of course, in public space. In continuation to their settled foundations, which provide event spaces, theaters, parks or leisure spaces, it has been to an ever greater extent that private institutions, with those two as their protype, are invading the public initiations for relocation of activities, for expansion of art exhibitions in open-air events, for transforming the public to semi-public, for replacing the state with private or semi-private, or subsidized initiatives that cover the lack of any fundamental art-agenda from the state. The monopoly that is created, soon after that, is a cultural landscape dimmed in comparison to the full potential of the public space.
In order to exemplify, we have to think of a chess game. The main players, want both to destroy one another, but also to sit on the playing table as long as possible. By calling themselves “the players” we are witnessing the apocalypse, the redemption and the salvation at once. We see the heroic movement of those institutions to come as saviors, as dwellers on a burnt land, that will try by any means and with great power to make that space flourish.
And what about the horses? The disconnection of those members of boards, those heads of action, those magnates of culture, with any kind of reality, but furthermore with any kind of imagination, pushes them to propose the beautification of a public space (i.e the ReThink Athens initiative) while on the basis they would like to have horse-tracks. On a blunt move, that starts from top to bottom, the proposals are mainly for their own enjoyment, for their own portfolio, for their own legacy, even if this legacy is built upon mud, dysfunctional realities, Swiss bank-accounts, archaeological sites, New York or London, heritage, legendary history, sponsorship, crude-oil or the the gulf-war, Port Said, the stables of Turnhout and Monaco among others. The last dislocation that we see, is the time dislocation. We believe the practices that are followed are feudal, copied from the Middle Ages when it was really important to hold land, to hold upon the basis of the poor, uneducated in order to finally conclude to a Crusade.