In the early 1960s Nicholaos and Aikaterini (Dolly) Goulandris began to collect Greek antiquities and subsequently artifacts belonging to the Cycladic culture. In 1962 the small collection acquired a legal status, granted by the Greek Archaeological Service. In the following years, the collection grew and between 1979-1984 it was exhibited in many museums abroad. In 1985, after the death of her husband, Dolly Goulandris created the N.P. Goulandris Foundation, to which she donated the internationally acclaimed Collection of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art.
The Museum of Cycladic Art opened its doors to the public in January 1986, and is now a living cultural institution in the heart of Athens. With the aim of communicating with the general public, it organises temporary exhibitions - devoted to archaeology and art - educational programmes, creative activities for children and families, lectures, one-day conferences and seminars. Its permanent collections are promoted by occasional reinstallations and academic publications.
The MCA is housed in two separate buildings, which are connected by a glass-roofed corridor: the Main Building, housing the permanent collections and the New Wing, and the Stathatos Mansion, housing the temporary exhibitions.
The Main Building, at 4 Neophytou Douka St., was built in 1985 by the architect Ioannis Vikelas to house the permanent collections of the MCA. Ιts facade combines marble and glass, conveying the sense of austerity and the diffusion of refracted light that predominate in the Cycladic landscape. The interior is distinguished by simple lines and a modern aesthetic, as well as the use of materials encountered in the Cyclades, such as marble and granite. The builidng has 4 floors with galleries, occupying in total approximately 2,300 sq. m., storerooms, workshops, and offices. In 2005 opened to the public the New Wing of the MCA, which added another 500 sq. m. to the museum for its multiple functions. The ground floor of the main building also accommodates the museum shop and the atrium, where the museum cafe is situated. From the atrium, a corridor leads to the Stathatos Mansion.
The Stathatos Mansion, which houses the temporary exhibitions of the museum, is one of the most important extant examples of Neoclassical architecture in Athens. Designed by the Bavarian architect Ernst Ziller, the villa was built in 1895 as the family residence of the renowned ship-owner Othon Stathatos and his wife Athina.
The Stathatos Mansion gracefully combines elements of Greek and Roman architecture with the canons of Romantic Classicism, prevailing in nineteenth-century Europe. The building is articulated with two virtually identical fronts, which meet at a monumental porch of Renaissance form. The entrance is emphasized by an arched facade supporting a balcony on the first floor, as well as by two statues crowning the roof.
A marble staircase leads up to the elevated ground floor where a cast-iron rotunda opens to the dining room and the main drawing room. No alterations have been made to these rooms, which have retained their original gilded stucco mural decorations, chandeliers, and fireplaces (during exhibitions parts of these are covered by wooden revetments).
A grand staircase leads to the first floor and what were originally the bedchambers. Today these rooms have been appropriately arranged to host temporary exhibitions. The basement of the mansion, which once housed the kitchen and ancillary rooms, now accommodates the offices and services of the MCA. At the far end of the garden, to the right of the main entrance, is an out-building which was the carriage house, stable, and servants’ quarters. This property does not belong to the MCA and houses public services.
Ziller's original signed plans of the Stathatos Mansion are kept in the National Art Gallery in Athens. Facsimiles are on display in the rotunda.
Over 3,000 artifacts of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot Art, testifying to the cultures that flourished in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean from the 4th millennium BC to the 6th c. AD, are displayed on the four floors of the permanent collections.
A synthetic approach to the history of the Aegean societies from 2000 BC to the 4th c. AD. With the aid of about 350 exhibits and interactive applications, visitors can follow the most important social and political developments from the birth of ancient Greek civilisation down to its creative blending with the Roman tradition, as reflected in art. Part of the exhibition is devoted to ancient Greek craftsmanship. Through interactive applications, visitors learn about the methods and tools used to make clay vessels and figurines, bronze weapons and tools, gold jewellery and glass vessels.
Since May 2004, the Collection of Thanos N. Zintilis, one of the most important private collections of Cypriot antiquities in the world, has formed part of the permanent collections of the Museum. About 500 artifacts of stone, clay, bronze, silver, gold and glass are on display, representing a broad spectrum of Cypriot civilisation from the Chalcolithic period down to Early Byzantine times.
A unique contemporary exhibition approach. 142 ancient artifacts (vase, figurines, jewellery, weapons) from the Ancient Greek and Cypriot Art collections of the Museum, are displayed in units based on theme: Gods and Heroes, On the Wings of Eros, Toiletry and Wedding, Women's Activities, Athletics, Symposium, In the Athenian Agora, Warfare, Taking care of the deceased. The permanent display is accompanied by two audiovisual presentations on everyday life and burial customs in ancient times.