In 1927, art historian and Director of the Hannover Museum Alexander Dormer commissioned El Lissitzky to design an exhibition space in which to host his own works alongside works by other avant guard artists of the time; Piet Modrian, Pablo Picasso, Fernard Léger, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Mies van der roh, among others. Lissitzky, in close colaboration with Dormer, would go on to conceive a geometrically arranged space in the Modernists spirit. The exhibits, inside display cases, wou;d form an integral part of the space. Dormer’s vision of a new kind of museum which would allow the spectator to interact more with the art works and exhibition spaces wou;d become a legacy for the future.
In Lissitzky’s Cabinet of Abstraction, works of art were no longer ‘fragments’ standing against the background of a white wall; instead they became parts of a conceptual whole which effectively assimilated them. The passive observer was transformed into an active receiver of the dialectic relationship between art work and space. In this ‘experiment’, art work and space were presented as an indivisible entity. In the years to follow, this coexistence would also prove decisive on the other side of Atlantic, where Alfred Barr would refer to the cabinet, calling it the single most famous room of twentieth century art in the world.
In the interwar years, between the atrocities of two world wars, the heroic era of gran innovation coincided with the crisis of democracy in Europe and the rise of nationalism and populism. Thus in 1936, with the Weimer Republic already fallen, the Nazis would destroy the cabinets and all the works inside it, as well as everything else they considered to be an example of ‘degenerate art’.
The Cabinet of Abstraction was created and destroyed in a deeply divided, defeated country, immersed in financial crisis. The collapse of democracy had disastrous consequences for Germany itself and for the rest of the world.
The financial crisis of 2010 created an escalation of discontentment towards the existing political system, which failed to give credible answers on the causes of this crisis. Therefore, the trust of the public is shaken in regard to the actual function of democracy and the institutions that support it. Questions on whether democracy is taken for granted or is vulnerable, both in Greece and Europe, ten to arise more often lately.
At Arsakeion Arcade, behind locked shutters, time appears to have stopped. It is inevitable that one should associate the financial crisis, social disintegration, increasing nationalism, populism and political polarization in Greece with similarly dark ages in the past. That is, at least those of us who realize that symptoms and coincidences may yield a similarly bleak future.