Panic Rips Through Europe As Dangerous Wildfires Threaten Historic Cultural Sites in Greece

The worst fires in decades have been ripping across southern parts of Europe, threatening lives, homes, and putting several ancient cultural sites at risks.

It’s summer vacation season in Europe, which means that masses of tourists from the North are peppered around the mediterranean, after borders were largely opened up in recent months following a winter and spring of lockdown. But early August has seen record-breaking temperatures, with the mercury reaching a scorching 47 Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) in parts of Greece this week, and causing numerous fires to break out.

Since Wednesday, hundreds of firefighters have been beating back deadly fires just outside the historic capital of Athens. The Acropolis and other ancient archaeological sites remained closed this week due to high temperatures, and many are now shrouded in smoke from the nearby fires.

Meanwhile, popular holiday destinations in Turkey, Italy, and Spain have also seen regions engulfed in fast-moving fires as the heatwave bakes on. Emergency service workers have been desperately trying to bring the dangerous blazes under control using water planes and helicopters.

A wildfire approaches the Olympic Academy in ancient Olympia in western Greece on August 4, 2021. Photo: Eurokinissi/AFP via Getty Images.

While the Olympic games continue to hand out medals in Tokyo, flames are burning dangerously near to its birthplace of Olympia, where hundreds of firefighters are working to evacuate locals, salvage homes and businesses, and to protect the world-famous site that dates back to 776 B.C., and where the games were held for more than a thousand years.

Culture minister Lina Mendoni assured media on Wednesday, August 3, that the fires near Olympia, which is now an archaeological site and museum, were coming under control. “Everything that can be done to protect from the flames […]  has been done,” she told the press.

Artifacts of key historic and artistic value were removed from the Tatoi palace, a former royal residence, as a precaution, although the site remains unharmed as of this writing. In another part of Greece, fires threatened the 14th century Monastery of St. David the Elder and Drymonas, near Kalamoudi. Several monks refused to leave despite pleas from authorities. So far, no deaths have been reported in Greece.

The neighboring country of Turkey was not in a better place in the early hours of Thursday, August 5. Fires raging in the south-western part of the nation have so far killed eight people, and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes. So far, the Turkish government, which did not sign on to the Paris Climate Agreement, has been mute on whether climate change was a cause of the flames, and its President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is facing criticism for the lack of help and resources being offered to local communities.

Elsewhere, this summer’s extreme weather is also threatening parts of Albania and high temperature warnings have been issued in North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and regions of Romania and Serbia. Earlier this summer, Germany was caught unprepared for devastating floods, which killed 177 people.

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Museums Are Reopening Across Europe at Last. Here Are 8 Must-See Shows You Can Actually Visit in Person This Spring

As spring nears, some European countries are seeing a small, if temporary, reprieve after months of strenuous lockdown. Museums in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and parts of Italy and Scandinavia, are again welcoming visitors to the shows that they’ve been planning, in many cases, for years.

Rifts in society and a still-raging pandemic have been difficult to process, but art—be it historical figures like the Belgian conceptual artist Jef Geys (whose work will be on view in Norway) or the long-overlooked Brazilian artist Leonilson (showing in Berlin), who both broke boundaries in distinct ways—can teach us how to think beyond the challenges of the past year. Newer artists, like Lydia Ourahmane, and intergenerational group exhibitions offer fresh perspectives on society, culture, and nature. And there is little that could substitute the visceral experience of standing within a triumphant installation like Phyllida Barlow’s at Haus der Kunst in Munich.

Here are nine exciting exhibitions in Europe that are—as of publication—actually open and worth a visit, so long as it is safe to do so.


Jef Geys at Bergen Kunsthall, Norway

Through April 5

Installation view of Jef Geys at Bergen Kunsthalle. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Installation view of Jef Geys at Bergen Kunsthalle. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The show is the largest presentation of the late Belgian artist’s work in nearly two decades, and the first of its scale since his death, in 2018, at age 83. Geys was a hero among the European avant-garde and never liked to define himself as an artist. His tongue-in-cheek practice often rejected the conventions that defined the art world. He responded, for example, to an invitation to a show with a threat to blow up the institution—which he did not do. He always abstained from attending his openings and declined interviews.

At Bergen Kunsthall, Geys’s survey shows the artist’s wit and the way he drew out wonder in the banal. In his “Seed Bag Series” paintings, for example, Geys rigorously painted large replicas of a packet of seeds that he planted in his garden once a year between 1963 and his death. In other works, he deals in humankind’s mundane desire to aggrandize itself. Corporeal-sized figures are perfectly covered in shiny auto paint manufactured for BMW cars, which, according to Geys, are “one of the most important extension pieces of our body.”


Risquons-tout” at WIELS, Brussels

Through March 28

Tarek Lakhrissi, Sick Sad World (2020).

Tarek Lakhrissi, Sick Sad World (2020).

The title of this group show, which translates to “let’s risk it all,” is actually the name of a small town on the Belgian-French border that has been known historically as a through-point for immigrants of all sorts. Some 38 artists from the surrounding regions of the Benelux, including some of the most exciting artists based in and around Europe, are involved in this daring show that investigates ideas of “bridging, passing, translating, and transgressing.” That includes breaking through borders, but also tech-induced information bubbles, and safety nets.

Neïl Beloufa, Tarek Lakhrissi, Laure Prouvost, and Nora Turato are among those taking part in “Risquons-tout,” which occupies the whole of the WIELS building and extends into neighboring spaces around it, ultimately examining “how art challenges the homogenization of thought in the now-infamous echo chambers of our overcrowded info-sphere.”


Lydia Ourahmane, “Barzakh” at Kunsthalle Basel

Through May 16

Lydia Ourahmane during install of the exhibition "Barzakh," Kunsthalle Basel, 2021. Photo by Dominik Asche / Kunsthalle Basel.

Lydia Ourahmane during install of the exhibition “Barzakh,” Kunsthalle Basel, 2021. Photo by Dominik Asche / Kunsthalle Basel.

The Kunsthalle Basel has commissioned up-and-coming artist Lydia Ourahmane to create a new commission for its upper floor. For her first institutional solo show in Switzerland, the artist has placed new sculptures and sound works among a seemingly innocuous grouping of furniture. It all comes from her rental apartment in Algeria, which had been furnished by its deceased former occupant.

From photographs to dinnerware to chandeliers, the once private space is made public in this exhibition and, meanwhile, the space is rigged with bugging devices that record the visitors’ movements. Together, the installation probes notions of home, settlement, and claiming space, as well as discipline through regimes of surveillance, invoking at once histories of displacement and colonial systems of oppression.


Leonilson, “Drawn 1975–1993” at KW Institute, Berlin

Through May 24


Da falsa moral and Do bom coração both (1993), on view as a part of Leonilson “Drawn 1975–1993” at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin 2020. Courtesy Projeto Leonilson. Photo: Frank Sperling.

It is emotional to walk through the first major European survey of Brazilian artist Leonilson, who died of complications related to AIDS in 1993, at age 36. The exhibition, which consists of 250 artworks on three floors of KW Institute for Contemporary Art, charts the pioneering artist’s career and life in works that are often diaristic. There are jubilant sculptures and expressive paintings that chronicle Brazil’s mood at the end of a decades-long regime, as well as the artist’s own worldly wanderings. As Leonilson became ill in the early 1990s, he focused increasingly on delicate embroidered textiles.

Leonilson writes terse stitched or inked poems in the textiles: “handsome, selfish,” says one, while another simply says, “slave” under a drawing of a face near a boot. Later, sometime around his diagnosis, works convey a sense of loss and perseverance: “empty man, lone, ready.” The isolation that Leonilson experienced, in part as a gay man within a largely Catholic nation, is channeled into a poignant and rich language.


Jakob Lena Knebl, “Walk on Water” at the Museum of Art and History, Geneva

Through June 28

Jakob Lena Knebl at Geneva’s Museum of Art and History. Photo: Julien Gremaud.

The Geneva Museum has undertaken an ambitious new strategy to recontextualize its historic collection of artifacts and paintings that span centuries. No longer wanting to operate as an “authoritarian” encyclopedic museum, the Swiss institution is letting a contemporary artist reinterpret gems from its collection, starting with the Viennese artist Jakob Lena Knebl, who will represent Austria in 2022 at the Venice Biennale with her collaborator Ashley Hans Scheirl.

For her show “Walk on the Water,” Knebl went through the museum’s 650,000 objects and restaged items within colorful, surreal scenes. In one chapter, there is a statue of Ramses II, dating from around 1290 BC, in a plush modern bedroom. Elsewhere, neoclassical marbles of Venus stand in shower cubicles, and a pair of 18th-century silk shoes sits atop a food platter. It’s a refreshing take that dusts off and reinterprets a truly impressive collection.


Sun Rise | Sun Set” at Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin

Through July 25

Installation view of "Sun Rise I Sun Set." Photo: Andrea Rossetti.

Installation view of “Sun Rise I Sun Set.” Photo: Andrea Rossetti.

A sensorial group show at Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin has artists like Max Ernst and Emma Kunz paralleled with contemporary figures including Pierre Huyghe or Norwegian photographer Torbjørn Rødland. A small green sprout is reaching out of the soil of Pamela Rosenkranz’s mound sculpture Infection (Calvin Klein Obsession for Men)—the cologne from the piece wafts around the glassed-in gallery space, which is tinted to protect light-shy earth worms that are fertilizing recent Frieze award winner Precious Okoyomon’s rock sculpture.

“Sun Rise | Sun Set” looks at climate as a poetic protagonist and, where individual humans do occur in this exhibition, they are inseparable from the natural world or at the mercy of it in some way. A woman is dominated by a beast in a 1908 painting by Henri Rousseau. Octopi tentacles seem to hit the sides of the screen as it swims in Kuwaiti filmmaker Monira al Qadiri’s moving work Divine Memory. The exhibition, with its flora and fauna that are both real and depicted, nearly transforms into its own feeling and breathing ecosystem.


Phyllida Barlow, “Frontier” at Haus der Kunst, Munich

Through July 25

Installation view of "frontier" by Phyllida Barlow at Haus der Kunst, 2021. Photo: Maximilian Geuter.

Installation view of “frontier” by Phyllida Barlow at Haus der Kunst, 2021. Photo: Maximilian Geuter.

The UK sculptor is having a large retrospective of 100 works that span decades of her practice. Barlow creates large-scale “anti-monumental” sculptures often from basic materials like cardboard, plywood, and textiles.

On the occasion of the show at Haus der Kunst—which launches a series of female-focused programming this year—Barlow has created several new site-specific works while reinstalling older pieces of towering proportions, dominating the museum’s intimidating architecture. There are also more intimate yet equally expressive works on paper that date back to the 1960s, which often share the same vivid color and energy as her sculptures. Considering that many of her works from earlier decades were destroyed, these works, which are usually made after a sculpture is complete, are somewhere between a memory and a dream.


Sophie Taeuber-Arp, “Living Abstraction” at Kunstmuseum Basel

Opening March 20

Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Composition à cercles et demi-cercles (1938). Arp Museum Bahnhof, Rolandseck, Remagen.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Composition à cercles et demi-cercles (1938). Arp Museum Bahnhof, Rolandseck, Remagen.

The Kunstmuseum Basel is giving Sophie Taeuber-Arp the recognition she deserves as a pioneer of 20th-century abstraction by staging a comprehensive retrospective of Switzerland’s own homegrown artist. The 250-work show, which has been put together in collaboration with MoMA in New York and Tate in London, includes her early works in applied arts and charts her brazen move into geometric abstraction, including her experimental years between Zurich and Paris, through to her later architectural works and abstract paintings.

“Living Abstraction” shines a full spotlight on an artist who has often been overshadowed in art history—though she has a special place in Switzerland, as many important collectors of her work are based there, and her face is on the 50 Swiss Franc note.

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Don’t Miss These 10 Museum Shows Opening in Europe in 2021, From a Hito Steyerl Retrospective to a Star Turn for Helen Frankenthaler

After 2020’s crush of postponements and cancellations, we are hopeful that 2021 will be different.

While a lot still remains to be confirmed, we have plucked out the most highly anticipated exhibitions to see in Europe in 2021.


Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
May 27–November 28

Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly (2000). One-hundred-two color woodcut. ©2021 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / DACS / Tyler Graphic Ltd., Mount Kisco, NY

Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly (2000). One-hundred-two color woodcut. ©2021 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / DACS / Tyler Graphic Ltd., Mount Kisco, NY.

This major print retrospective of Helen Frankenthaler includes 30 works on loan from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, spanning from her first-ever woodcut, in 1973, to her final work, published in 2009. The show will examine the artist’s innovative approach to printmaking, defying the woodcut medium’s supposed limitations to create new dimensions of beauty.


Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Green Coconuts and Other Inadmissible Evidence
Vienna Secession, Vienna
Through February 7

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, <i>Once Removed</i> (2019). Exhibition view Secession 2020, Photo: Iris Ranzinger.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Once Removed (2019). Exhibition view Secession 2020, Photo: Iris Ranzinger.

This exhibition of the Turner Prize-winning artist’s work investigates sound, speech, memory, and their role in the quest for truth. A key tenet of the artist’s practice is his analysis of acoustic clues and earwitness testimony, and the exhibition will include four works from two series that investigate this, as well as other forms of witnessing. Included will be Abu Hamdan’s audiovisual inquiry into the Syrian torture prison Saydnaya, After SFX (2018), as well as a new series of prints titled For the Otherwise Unaccounted, which is inspired by birthmarks.


Untitled: Art on the Conditions of Our Time
Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
February 6–April 5

Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, <i>Finding Fanon Part One,</i>(2015), courtesy of Copperfield Gallery & Seventeen Gallery, London. Image: Claire Barrett.

Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, Finding Fanon Part One,(2015), courtesy of Copperfield Gallery & Seventeen Gallery, London. Image: Claire Barrett.

This group show will bring together 10 British artists who are part of the African diaspora whose work probes key cultural and political questions of our time. It will include new commissions and recent works by by Barby Asante, Phoebe Boswell, Kimathi Donkor, and others. Curator Paul Goodwin says the exhibition will center the works, instead of focusing on Blackness itself. “Questions of Blackness, race, and identity are shown to be entangled in the multitude of concerns—aesthetic, material, and political—that viewers can encounter without the curatorial voice obscuring the works,” he says.


Ad Minoliti
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
April 1–March 13

Ad Minoliti, <i>Cubes</i>(2019). Image courtesy Ben Davis.

Ad Minoliti, Cubes (2019). Image courtesy Ben Davis.

This is the Argentinian artist’s biggest exhibition, and first institutional UK show, to date. The artist, whose work was included in the 2019 Venice Biennale, is known for making colorful paintings and installations that grapple with queer theory and feminism. The show is conceived as space of respite away from the constaints of gender binary, human-centered art and life, in what the artist calls an “alien lounge.” It will host bi-weekly workshops as part of Minoliti’s Feminist School of Painting, which will tackle traditional painting genres in an effort to reimagine historical narratives from feminist, intersectional, and queer perspectives.


A Fire in My Belly
Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin
February 6–December 12

Laure Prouvost <i>They Parlaient Idéale</i> (2019). Courtesy of the artist und carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid.

Laure Prouvost They Parlaient Idéale (2019). Courtesy of the artist und carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid.

Curator Lisa Long is planning a major exhibition drawing on Stoschek’s collection, which includes challenging and cathartic pieces by artists including Barbara Hammer, Anne Imhof, Adrian Piper, and Arthur Jafa. The viewer will be positioned as a witness to acts of violence in a brave look at how it is represented, distributed, and circulated. Rarely seen pieces and several new works that were recently purchased will be on view. The show’s title, “A Fire in My Belly,” is an homage to the seminal work of the same name by American artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, which will also be on view.



Hito Steyerl
Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
February 3–June 7

How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic EducationalHito Steyerl (2013). Image courtesy of the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and Esther Schipper, Berlin .

The acclaimed German artist’s largest-ever show in France was pushed back from its original date last summer. The exhibition, which was first presented last fall at K21 in Düsseldorf, includes a best-of of Steyerl’s major works, including her break-out 2013 piece, How not to be seen, and Factory of the Sun from the 2015 Venice Biennale, as well a new production. Part of the show will incorporate the unique architecture of the Centre Pompidou as a point of departure.


Beuys: 2021
Various Venues in Europe
Throughout 2021

Joseph Beuys Photo: Behr/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

Joseph Beuys Photo: Behr/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

The conceptual artists is the subject of a major blockbuster program next year that will take place in 12 German cities, as well as in Warsaw, Poland, Vienna, Austria, and Manresa, Spain. We are particularly looking forward to the exhibition at K20 in Düsseldorf, called “Everyone Is an Artist: Cosmopolitan Exercises With Joseph Beuys,” which opens on March 27. The show will presents many contemporary artists in dialogue with Beuys, questioning or expanding on the practice of this most enigmatic artist. In October 2021, the Krefeld Museum will offer the first exhibition ever to juxtaposition Beuys with Marcel Duchamp.


The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
February 12–May 30

Unknown, Multiple leg cuffs for chaining enslaved people, with 6 loose shackles, ca. 1600-1800. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, schenking van de heer J.W. de Keijzer, Gouda.

Unknown, Multiple leg cuffs for chaining enslaved people, with 6 loose shackles, ca. 1600-1800. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, schenking van de heer J.W. de Keijzer, Gouda.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is planning a major show that looks at the history of slavery across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. The show will look at the Dutch involvement in the slave trade, taking up 10 true stories of individuals who were either victims or profiteers of the trade. More than 100 objects and artworks will be on view from the Rijksmuseum collection and elsewhere. “This past has long been insufficiently examined,” museum director Taco Dibbits said.


Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective
Gropius Bau, Berlin
March 19–August 1

Yayoi Kusama, <I>Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show</i> (1963). Courtesy: Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Yayoi Kusama, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963). Courtesy: Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

This major survey show will focus on the early development of Yayoi Kusama’s work, including the early paintings and sculptures that eventually led to her immersive environments, which will also be on view. The show is curated by the museum’s director, Stephanie Rosenthal, in collaboration with Kusama’s studio, and charts the Japanese artist’s often overlooked activities in Europe and Germany from the 1960s onward. The show will travel to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in late 2021.


Various Venues, Arnem
April 10–June 21

sonsbeek curatorial team. Courtesy sonsbeek.

Sonsbeek’s curatorial team. Courtesy sonsbeek.

Taking place about every four years, “Sonsbeek” brings international artists to the small town of Arnem in the Netherlands. This edition is helmed by the Berlin-based curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, who has turned the concept for the exhibition on its head: it will now open in 2021 and will unfold over the next four years. Topics including race, gender, and the state of the working class will be central to the show, which includes artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Laure Prouvost, Oscar Murillo, and Willem de Rooij, among others.

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