British artists furious as Greek billionaire behind arts festival 'goes missing' with all their works

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Absent promoter leaves artists out of the picture

British artists and curators claim to have been left out of pocket after a mysterious Greek entrepreneur behind a new cultural festival “disappeared” with most of their works.

The inaugural Santorini Biennale on the idyllic Aegean island was meant to be a cultural celebration to combat Greece’s economic gloom by attracting wealthy, art-loving tourists.

But two months since its close, things have turned ugly, with curators claiming they have been left unpaid and landlords chasing rent. The festival’s founder, a self-styled artist, economist and “professor of cultural diplomacy” called Kikos Papadopoulos, has gone to ground – along with many of the pieces featured in the exhibition.

Tomas Poblete, a 40-year-old Camden-based artist, was one of 14 curators approached by Mr Papadopoulos this year. Each was promised £10,000 with plush, rent-free living for the duration of the trip. Between them they signed up 300 artists, as well as high-profile judges including the former Turner Prize panellist David Thorp.

Poblete claims that Mr Papadopoulos promised him that private investors had pumped cash into the project. “I was interested in where the money was coming from, given the economic situation, but he just waved his hand. ‘It is all secured,’ he told me,” Poblete told The Independent. “He gave us every reason to believe.”

As promises of a team of technicians turned to dust, some of the curators jumped ship, but most pressed ahead with months of preparations. Each of the artists – including Britons Claire Pestaille and Alex Pollard – paid £50 to enter the show. Some also contributed hundreds of pounds to have their work shipped across the world.

With the June deadline looming, and still no sign of the aircraft tickets promised for the big-name judges, the panel had to be replaced at the last minute by local artists.

When it finally opened, in July, the show was a success. But as the weeks passed, contributors anxious for the return of their works became concerned that Mr Papadopoulos appeared to have become uncontactable.

Francesca Mancuso, a comic artist who submitted work to the show, said: “Some people had their works ruined by mould; some still don’t know what happened to their work.”

Last month, Poblete took matters into his own hands, by stepping on to an aircraft and knocking on the door of his elusive employer’s house. “The house was floor to ceiling with artwork. I was stunned, speechless,” he said.

When confronted, Mr Papadopoulos claimed he was storing the work, which would be sent on with haste. He also posted a message on a Facebook page set up by the artists affected, blaming bad weather for a lack of contact. But now, he has fallen silent again, with no sign of the artworks being shipped.

When The Independent attempted to contact the director, it was informed the number listed “has barred all incoming calls”.

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