Elina Kountouri knows first-hand how intertwined are a city’s cultural, social and urban life. As Managing Director at NEON Foundation, a Greek non-profit organization whose primary mission is to bring contemporary art closer to the public, she has overseen since its launch in 2013 a multitude of ambitious projects that have not only reinvigorated the country’s cultural landscape but also given new life to numerous sites across Athens. With no permanent exhibition space, the organization has been temporarily taking over public and private, often unexpected spaces, from archaeological sites and prestigious museums, to private gardens and abandoned buildings, allowing visitors to experience them afresh. Having worked as a lawyer before moving into arts management, Elina is well suited to dealing with the challenges that mounting exhibitions at such venues entail, as well as with NEON’s other initiatives which include sponsoring educational and talks programmes, scholarships and curatorial collaborations with other institutions as well as community projects with groups such as the Melissa Network that works with migrant and refugee women. We recently caught with Elina to ask her about her proudest moments at NEON, her favourite museums and her inspirations.
A project/initiative you’re most proud of?
Our 2019 exhibition of Antony Gormley’s sculptures on the archaeological site of Delos, and Adrián Villar Rojas’s The Theater of Disappearance held at the National Observatory of Athens in 2017.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Cities. This is where critical engagement starts.
Which art/design/style icons you are most inspired by?
Oscar Niemeyer, David Bowie, Francesca Woodman, Danh Vo, Duro Olowu, Adrián Villar Rojas, Eva Hesse, Peter Hujar, Tadao Ando, Nina Simone, Lavrentis Maxairitsas, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks: for their energy, vision and sustained effort in delivering change. I also admire Christian Dior’s mid-50s dressing gowns, the epitome of elegance.
Which colours are you currently enamoured of?
I believe in the strength of simplicity and favour monochrome - dark blue, black and white - although I definitely go for colours and patterns on coats and shirts.
What item in your closet do you wear the most?
My Max Mara everyday trousers.
Three Instagram accounts you check daily?
Duro Olowu, Trevor Noah and Archdigest.
Favourite destination and hotel?
The islands of Kalymnos, Patmos and Sifnos.
Which city would you choose to live in if you had to move?
I’m adaptable and could see myself living in quite a few different places. Top choice, I guess, would be London as I have really fond memories from my student days, lots of close friends there and I love the vibe and potential of the city. Another city I can imagine living in is Tel-Aviv.
What souvenirs would you bring back home?
Your latest discovery?
A rosé wine, Idylle d’Achinos by the Greek producer La Tour Melas.
The Archaeological Museum of Mykonos in the bustling town of Mykonos is a hidden gem that features a unique collection of funerary artefacts from Rhenia island and a secret courtyard that you discover once you enter. Plus, the island’s best sunset views can be enjoyed from the museum’s front steps. On a different scale, I love The Met because every time I visit I always discover something new, and when I can’t visit in person, its digital platform is a unique educational tool.
What is on your bookshelf?
A stone from Morocco given to me by Adrián Villar Rojas, an Andrea Zittel ceramic with nuts, the book I’m reading at the moment, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, and an untidy pile of notes, papers and designs for my next project in Athens.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
‘We don’t care. We move forward.’
What is your guilty pleasure?
I cannot resist Kettle crisps.
What is your most treasured possession?
Two black and white, crystal bear figurines given to me by my daughter, when she was 10, for Christmas.