On a sunny spring morning in his Athens place of work, Dimitris Daskalopoulos waves his hand in a gesture that somehow combines joyfulness with a tender undertone of unhappiness. “In a way we have been building up to this minute for 35 decades,” he claims with a wide smile. The “moment” is the announcement this week that Daskalopoulos, 1 of Greece’s top business figures and a noteworthy collector of up to date art over the earlier three a long time, is giving absent more than 350 operates, the bulk of his hugely esteemed collection, to a modest group of public museums.

The performs will be split between London’s Tate, the Countrywide Museum of Modern Artwork in Athens (EMST), the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation and the Museum of Modern day Artwork in Chicago. The donation involves items by some of the largest names in modern artwork — Louise Bourgeois, Jannis Kounellis, Steve McQueen, Matthew Barney — and has been warmly welcomed by all 4 institutions. Maria Balshaw, director of Tate, described it as “an extraordinary act of generosity”, though Richard Armstrong, the Guggenheim’s director, mentioned the reward would “facilitate a abundant expansion of the narratives that can unfold in our long-lasting collections”.

The donation was introduced currently at an Athens ceremony attended by the primary minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He described the donation as a “gift to recent artwork fans, and long run generations of aspiring art lovers”, for whom the “lingua franca” of artwork was “needed more than at any time in these dire circumstances”.

Daskalopoulos, founder and chair of DAMMA Holdings, a economic providers and investment company, speaks with a scarce feeling of clarity and candour about his choice. He suggests he determined to cease incorporating to his selection, which includes get the job done by 142 artists, some yrs ago. “There is no stage in accumulating objects when you have mentioned every thing you experienced to say with your selection,” he suggests. “I manufactured my statement.” 

A gust of dust bursting out of a crevice in the ground
‘Untitled (Volcano Collection No 2)’ (1979) by Ana Mendieta © Michael Bodycomb

That determination in turn prompted even further reflection: “At some level, when you create a huge collection, you say, ‘Why am I accomplishing this? What is this about?’ Suddenly you have these 300 operates . . . and you think, ‘Is it an financial investment? Is it an inheritance for my inheritors? For my ego? And how massive is my ego?’

“And for me, the response became really crystal clear: these are is effective that are manufactured by creative folks, and in the beginning they belong to them. And then an artwork has a that means only if it interacts with a viewer. So who am I? I consider of myself as a short term caretaker. And now I am providing these again to the community, to give an opportunity for more persons to get motivated.”

I request Daskalopoulos about his cultural beginnings. When we were being young, I say (we are about the exact age, born in the late 1950s), we have been largely obsessed by rock songs and videos, and not several individuals understood of the mysterious strategies of contemporary art. “I was very into rock tunes,” he replies eagerly. “When I was 12 or 13 my father applied to convey back from his travels albums by Uriah Heep and Atomic Rooster.” It was a trip to Munich and its Glyptothek museum shortly afterwards that fired his fascination in visible art. “I froze in front of the paintings, for hours. It was in there, somewhere,” he claims, pointing to his heart.

A large mannequin of a child, naked from the waist down, with a tomato on its head
‘Tomato Head (Burgundy)’ (1994) by Paul McCarthy © Courtesy the artist/Hauser & Wirth. Picture: Douglas M Parker Studio
A body print of the artist on a canvas
Untitled (1975) by David Hammons © and courtesy David Hammons. Picture: Alexandros Filippidis

His 1st main purchase was a sculpture by the German artist Rebecca Horn at the Cologne artwork good in 1993 (“I was an early sufferer of artwork fairs, which I stopped being quite early in my collecting profession,” he states wryly). I request what turned him to collecting modern day operate, fairly than something a lot more conventional, and he suggests it was the way in which it questioned by itself concerns: “What is artwork, how can it be handy, how can it be pleasurable? Does it or does it not influence on society, or foresee what will be going on, or generate some thing? I really do not know the remedy, but it is an fascinating method.”

Daskalopoulos’s small business career burgeoned — he was principal owner, chair and main executive of Delta Holdings/Vivartia SA, the largest meals conglomerate in Greece right up until 2007, and then chair of the board of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises during the crisis-ridden many years of 2006-2014. And so did his deepening fascination in those people artistic concerns.

Running a business and wondering philosophically about the indicating of art had been worlds apart, I counsel to him. “They are opposite mentalities. But they had been two parallel worlds in my psyche which complemented just about every other extremely effectively.”

The D Daskalopoulos Collection was formally set up in 1994 and it has supported a selection of museum initiatives about the world, together with the basis of curatorships at Tate, the Guggenheim, the Whitechapel Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Fashionable Artwork. In new yrs he has established a cultural centre, NEON, and a investigate assume-tank, diaNEOsis, in his homeland.

Wine bottles hanging upside down over a gleaming slab
‘Exhuming Gluttony: A Lover’s Requiem’ (2006) by Wangechi Mutu © Erika Ede

I check with what determined the choice of museums for his donation. “I wanted to give a greatest publicity of these operates to as around the globe an audience as feasible,” he replies. “And then there was the useful consideration: there was no a single area that could acquire all of these operates.”

Was he not tempted to establish his possess museum, which is a little bit of a matter these times? “It never ever appealed to me at all. For two good reasons: initial, to have your possess museum is like a mausoleum, and there is a single of those currently in the 1st Cemetery [in Athens], which my mother developed for my household, and I did not want an additional a single.

“Then, I strongly believe that that a collection is a own enthusiasm, and if you are not there, there is no composition that need to check out, or is capable, to run your individual passion by way of the generations. That is why it is significant that these will work ought to go to community museums. They will be there in 100 years, when my name will be completely neglected.

“They will be greater put to judge the price of the works, mainly because they are not all necessarily like the ‘Mona Lisa’. In 200 years’ time, some will hardly ever appear out yet again, some will be hanging completely someplace. The museums can choose that much better than any private institution, and they will be capable to put them in dialogue with the art of the foreseeable future.”

Black and white photo of a naked woman and man standing in a narrow doorway as a man tries to squeeze between them
‘Imponderabilia’ (1977) by Marina Abramović and Ulay © Giovanna dal Magro/Lisson Gallery, London, courtesy the Marina Abramović Archives
Sculpture of a woman’s lower half made from tights
‘Bunny Will get Snookered #10’ (1997) by Sarah Lucas © Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ

Daskalopoulos suggests he has not imposed any problems on the museums that are receiving his donation (“It usually means they don’t have to continue to keep hunting at their contracts to see what they have to do”), but his hope is that they will co-operate in curating and conserving the operate. The items to the Guggenheim and the MCA Chicago are to be held in joint possession. “I imagine they are elated to be working together,” he says. “It is excellent to get distinctive sights on items.”

The EMST and Tate will also collaborate on mutual financial loans and exchanges. He says the Greek museum is in fantastic condition next a “troublesome” period, and he is optimistic about his country’s potential in typical. “I think there is a pragmatism, not only in federal government but in community expectations. We are moving considerably superior.”

One particular of the highlights of Greek cultural life just before the Covid lockdown was the set up of a group of sculptures by Antony Gormley on the island of Delos, commissioned by NEON. Daskalopoulos admits sensation “apprehensive” — the uninhabited island is thought of a sacred location, and there are stringent rules on its use — and recalls Gormley’s phrases to him when they frequented the internet site. “He mentioned, ‘On this island, you can only whisper, out of regard.’ And that was what his perform was. A solid whisper.” 

He confesses, finally, to experience some sadness on parting with his collection, describing it as a resource of good “psychological and psychological wealth”. But his views are with the artworks: “[They] are entitled to to be out there, interacting with the globe, and developing thoughts in other men and women. So I’m joyful that this is taking place.”

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