International opening: AG Leventis Gallery, Nicosia, Cyprus

Cypriot businessman Anastasios G Leventis had a longstanding ambition to create a fine art museum in his homeland to display the works and objects he had collected. More than 35 years after his death, his vision has been fulfilled. By Simon Stephens
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Simon Stephens
This new gallery in Nicosia, the capital and largest city on the island of Cyprus, is named after Cypriot entrepreneur Anastasios G Leventis.
Leventis died in 1978 and the following year a foundation was established in his name that supports a variety of good causes, including Greek and Cypriot cultural heritage. 

The organisation co-founded Cyprus’s first historical museum, the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia, and has backed a number of other museums, including the Machairas Monastery Museum and the Museum of Folk at Fikardou village. 

The foundation has funded Cypriot antiquities collections in more than 30 museums worldwide, including the British Museum in London, the Ashmolean in Oxford and the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. 

One of Leventis’s aims was to create a fine art museum in his homeland to display the works and objects he collected throughout his lifetime.
The gallery has three collections representing European, Greek and Cypriot art. El Greco, Canaletto, Boucher, Renoir, Monet, Chagall, Rallis, Moralis, Parthenis and Diamantis are among the artists featured. The works, which form the biggest private collection of European art on the island, comprise more than 800 items, including paintings, drawings, watercolours and objets d’art. 
Education is an important part of the gallery’s offer. The aim is to engage children and adults through a wide range of tailor-made educational programmes and activities.
Nicosia has been a divided city since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island following a Greek-inspired coup d’etat – there is a United Nations buffer zone between the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot sections.
What types of art was Anastasios G Leventis particularly interested in?
Loukia Loizou Hadjigavriel: Anastasios G Leventis’s personal aesthetic is indelibly marked on the collections of the AG Leventis Gallery, which reflect his fascination with the Old Masters and his love for impressionist and post-impressionist art. 

The collector’s interest in period furniture and objets d’art –originally chosen for his apartment in Avenue Foch [in Paris] where part of his collection was housed for over half a century– are also indicative of his personal taste. 

What are the main aims of the new gallery?
The gallery is chiefly aiming to provide Cyprus with a cultural institution that will promote European art, bringing the public in contact, for the first time, with major works created within the span of four centuries, from the 17th to the 20th century. 

Special importance is also given to the gallery’s educational role, to widening cultural horizons and encouraging viewers of all ages to learn more about the history of art. The aim is to create a visitor experience that will be informative and interactive, instructive and entertaining.

How does the gallery fit in with the wider work of the foundation?
The promotion of culture – alongside education, philanthropy and conservation of the environment – is among the foundation’s chief aims. The opening of the gallery marks the foundation’s dedicated support of culture for over 30 years. 
What will visitors to the gallery learn about western European, Greek and Cypriot art?
The thematic presentation of the collections is carefully choreographed to present the works in the broader context of their period, allowing visitors to see over 400 years of art and history. 

Through the display, the gallery aims not only to encourage visitors to explore the three distinct collections, but also to allow for a perception of art beyond the traditional limits of schools and styles, drawing connections between the artistic legacy of Europe, Greece and Cyprus. 

What type of visitors are you hoping to attract to the gallery?
The gallery aims to cater as much to a specialist as a non-specialist audience and is addressed both to the Cypriot public and to foreign visitors and academics. The interactive displays, which include video walls and digital labels, aim to fuse the art of the past with today’s cutting-edge interactive technology, thereby also engaging a younger generation of viewers. 
What will the gallery contribute to arts education in Cyprus?
Above all, the gallery aims to act as a hub for culture in the city – a space where people can interact with and learn to love art. We believe that a gallery such as this is not only a place where history and art are preserved for future generations, but also a space with a unique and complex social role: a platform for the exchange of ideas, a forum for debate and discussion, and an institution that helps foster social cohesion by encouraging public participation.
Project data
  • Cost £21m
  • Main funder AG Leventis Foundation
  • Architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios; J&A Philippou
  • Structural engineer J&A Philippou
  • M&E engineers Max Fordham, GEMAC
  • Cost consultant RESDE DPM
  • Project manager RESDE DPM
  • Main contractor GCC Iacovu

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