Dakis Joannou Has His Own Definition of Patronage

The founder of the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art believes supporting the arts is about much more than just buying work.

Patronage, which ideally means supporting creative energies, takes many forms. The myriad of opportunities range from institutional, like joining museum boards or chairing a gala, to the more democratic, such as online platforms like Kickstarter. For Dakis Joannou, founder of the Greece-based Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, patronage takes on a whole new scope. Whether it involves collecting, contributing to exhibitions, or simply organizing gatherings, patronage is a question of relationships, of building up networks of friendships through which you contribute to culture,” he says. “By that I mean something different from patronage in the traditional sense of the word.”

Like Deste’s exhibition program, driven entirely by Joannou, the foundation’s publications are known for their idiosyncrasy and by projects that are not bound by traditional constraints, like 1968, a book of his Italian Radical period design furniture collection shot by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari in the style of Toilet Paper, their irregularly published artist’s book-magazine of surreal stages photographs, or the co-publication with Paul Chan’s Badlands of a radical new translation of Plato’s Hippias Minor.

By taking what the book’s editors call an “unscientific approach,” Deste 33 Years: 1983-2015 retraces the development of Joannou’s foundation in a combination of oral history and archival format; 850 pages of photographs, press clippings, critical reviews, correspondence, and unabashed conversations reveal not only the ups and downs of the foundation, but offer an intimate glimpse into the state of contemporary art. The sprirt of the book is driven by Joannou’s desire to empower artists to generate ideas and connect with contemporary culture.

Patronage for those with Medici-scaled aspirations and resources start their own museum. Some reflect trends but for Joannou patronage has always meant something personal. As he writes in the introduction to Deste 33 Years, “For some, art is, above all, a luxury. But not for me. We don’t need it to survive, but we do need it. It’s what man needs to remind him that he’s human after all.” Joannou, who studied engineering and architecture in the U.S., initially set out to create a museum of contemporary culture when he established Deste (which means “look” in Greek) more than three decades ago. According to him, by building a collection, you’re saying, “This is what I believe.”

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