The ILJM is the only jewelry museum in Greece. It is a nonprofit cultural organization certified by the Greek Ministries of Finance and Culture in 1993. The Museum acts as an international center for decorative and traditional arts and crafts, with an emphasis on goldsmithing and contemporary studio jewelry. In its twenty years of operation, the ILJM has organized over 80 temporary exhibitions with decorative arts from Museum and private collections. 1.200 specialized educational programs have reached over 80.000 children and 60.000 adults while visitors count more than ½ million. Its future agenda includes introducing new educational methods of art and culture education through fun and inspirational activities for both children and adults. The ILJM is not government funded. Its income derives from Museum Shop revenues, tickets and private funding.
Below is an interview with Ioanna Lalaounis, director of the “Ilias Lalaounis” Museum of Jewelry. I thank her very much.
Your father was an internationally acclaimed goldsmith. What role did the late Konstantinos Tsatsos and Bodossakis play in your father’s artistic career?
Constantine Tsatsos was one of the godfathers of his work, giving him the idea. When he saw him begin to study ancient Greek art, the ancient techniques, to train the goldsmiths, to monitor what was happening in museums worldwide, and new Greek museums with new excavations in the 1950s, he told him that what he had created that was inspired by ancient Greece, was very important and should be the main motto of his work because it was something original (that did not exist before) and would be representative of him. I think he was also one of his professors at the university. Bodossakis supported him in his business ventures, that is, he often advised him on how, to proceed with the business of the company. When my dad ended his cooperation with the "Zolotas" company, which was a family business, and started on his own, he helped him a lot.
Is it true that the Empress Farah invited him to the palace where he presented jewelry inspired by Persian Museums?
For six years the Shah of Persia invited people from around the world, from the sectors of business, the arts and politics in order to open Iran to the world. He was a modernizer. He opened the borders and brought in foreigners. Among the numerous events, there were lots of art events as well. They invited artists, among them Greeks, and held numerous exhibitions. It had been my father, along with John Tseklenis and others who went there to show their work; he was invited twice, I think. He had shown some of the collections and had dedicated one of them to Farah; this particular one still exists today in the Museum and is called "From Louristan to Persepolis"; it was inspired by the ancient art of Persia. Moreover, in 1973, he had already made the collection entitled "Silver playful", which was a collection of children's drawings made by students of "Moraitis" school, a collection which was made in silver and plexiglass, including mobile parts, which was quite diverse and artistic. Indeed, from this collection, he had taken some designs of Farah’s children to make some pieces of jewelry for them inspired by their own designs. In 1998, the “Pushkin” Museum in Moscow hosted a major exhibition of jewelry from 15 of his own collections. Two Lalaounis bracelets are now uniquely displayed as reference points for lovers of the kind, in the “Victoria and Albert” museum in London. The “Victoria and Albert” museum is a huge museum of decorative arts. They created the new "jewelry galleries", as they were named, and incorporated the history of jewelry through its collections. There are 2 unique "Lalaounis' bracelets, one of the Byzantine collection and one of the geometric. Their designs are unique thus representing Ilias Lalaounis through this important museum. He has held exhibitions in a large number of museums around the world, in Israel in “Islamic Museum” in Istanbul, in Philadelphia, Paris, in Romania in 2008, in Moscow in 1998, in the “Onassis Foundation” in New York in 2001.
The Lalaounis jewels have been recognized and established in many countries abroad. Does this apply to the museum as well and how do you care for its promotion inside and especially outside Greece?
The museum is an accomplished organization now, after 22 years of operation. In Greece, it is the only jewelry museum so it represents an entire Greek traditional art. After 5000 years, we can virtually demonstrate a valuable object that speaks of the societies by which it was made. It is very important that there is such a museum in Greece. We have gained a very good reputation abroad as well as good cooperation because we have held numerous exhibitions of historical jewelry and pieces created by artists. We try to keep publicizing the museum through a range of cultural programs - though specialized - and I have to emphasise this because many museums do many things. Some of them are ancient museums doing contemporary programs and vice versa, which is a bit confusing. Everyone does whatever they think can promote their museum but we choose to specialize in decorative arts and jewelry even though this might be at the expense of our popularity . It is very important to be able to project the historical side of jewelry, not only through the Greek collections - and I am not referring to the ancient ones - there are archaeological museums for the latter. I am referring to historical collections worldwide. We have done ethnic touring, agent in silver, pocket watch exhibitions, historical objects. We are trying to organize as many exhibitions as possible but this is too time-consuming and costs too much. You see, we have no state funding and private grants or donations are a bit difficult to obtain. We hold exhibitions at the museum and abroad. There are educational programs that are available not only to cover the history of art, Lalaounis, jewelry but also - based on specialization - to help young people to integrate in a creative and entertaining manner into a museum. This is very important to us. Children taking a guided tour, and forgetting everything upon leaving is not the case here. We try to make them understand and assimilate the art, through dialogue and develop their curiosity for many phases and aspects of Greek culture, whether it's called a jewel, or archeology, architecture or new technology. Also, there are programs for adults. We enrich them as much as we can because this is all self-funded, carried out through workshops, educational programs, quality programs, lectures, tours. Of course, there are also programs for special target groups. Special target groups can be skilled professionals who come from abroad. There was a group of teachers from China on a postgraduate program who had come to observe the evolution of Greek goldsmith work through the creations of Ilias Lalaounis. We also have programs for people with disabilities and we are trying to find sponsorship to develop them. Right from the start, the museum was designed with the provision of enabling access for the disabled. A lot of things are done for countries abroad. One of the good news is that we are going to start a summer school for foreign students and Greeks on classical archeology and the history of jewelry, since classical Greece up to the present.
On what criterion do you base your selection of artists for the periodical exhibitions of the museum?
The criteria are many. For example, for our current exhibition, the criterion was to be able to incorporate in the exhibition artists from all categories, young, accomplished, some who mostly deal with commercial jewelry, some others who are mostly interested in art jewelry, some creators, like Ntasios, who have diversified into other fields such as making clothes. We aimed at including others, like Mary Mastori, who make creations for specific occasions, artists working with different materials and 2-3 who are not considered great artists but are passionate about their hobby. The basic criterion was creators who live and work in Greece. We have exhibited the works of thousands of creators from abroad. Such exhibitions inaugurated in 1996. We have completed 20 years of cooperation with foreign creators.
What are the future goals of the museum?
To further develop areas within the museum so that it can be maintained as a living organism. We wouldn’t like museums to turn into libraries, so we are trying to develop a way of documentation and exhibition of collections and programs. To hold more exhibitions with Ilias Lalaounis but also with Greek artists abroad. Moreover, we would like to develop educational programs for the disabled using new technology. We want new technology to be incorporated into the museum but not characterize it. In other museums in the world visitors can learn too much on the internet. This should not replace the actual museum experience. Museums should follow the technology but not be replaced by it. Because then the true essence is lost, which is contact and acquaintance with the objects themselves.