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Greek art in China October 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Asia.
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Modern Greek art converses with classical antiquity as part of a National Gallery exhibition that was inaugurated at Beijing’s Capital Museum on October 18.

A shorter version of Classical Memories in Modern Greek Art, part of the Culture Ministry’s Greek Cultural Year in China agenda of events in view of the 2008 Olympics, was first presented at the Cultural Centre of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation in New York. The exhibition will travel to Athens in December in its full, China-specific version.

Speaking at a press meeting, Antonis S Papadimitriou, President of the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, the show’s sole sponsor, said that the choice of title could also be suitable for an archaeological exhibition. “However, the featured paintings of select classic, I daresay, contemporary Greek artists face the future and the past at one go,” he said.

Greek artists’ encounter with their roots was not a simple or self-evident affair, according to the National Gallery’s Director, Marina Lambraki-Plaka. The founding of the independent Greek state in 1830 placed Greeks’ contact with their cultural heritage on new grounds. But it was not until the end of the 19th century that Greek artists, nurtured by the academic principles of the Munich School, manifested a vivid, nevertheless short-lived, interest in the revival of the spirit of antiquity. At the turn of the century, however, the Munich School was dropped in favour of the light-radiating palette of the French Impressionists, who displayed no interest in antiquity.

“Greek art’s turn to antiquity coincides with the interwar period,” Lambraki-Plaka pointed out. “It was actually Konstantinos Parthenis who initiated the dialogue with our heavily weighing ancient heritage, urging Greek artists to set aside their reservations and begin to address the ancient world’s seductive myths and forms.”

Spanning the period from the 1920s to present day, Classical Memories in Modern Greek Art features representative works by 1930s artists such as Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Yannis Moralis and their descendants, as well as contemporary artists Christos Bokoros and Tassos Christakis.

Greek heritage, though, is not confined to classical antiquity alone, but spreads into the realm of Byzantine sources and folk tradition.

These multiple points of reference are evident in the National Gallery’s show. Parthenis’ elongated forms combine elements from antiquity and Byzantium, as well as El Greco’s art. Ghika’s Cubism-influenced compositions reflect the architectural patterns of Greek islands and the pagan spirit of ancient mythology, while Fotis Kontoglou borrows heavily from the Fayum iconography, which has also inspired the art of Moralis.

Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical approach, also encountered in Sarandis Karavouzis’ art, and Byzantine themes coexist in Nikos Engonopoulos’ art. Yannis Tsarouchis’ handsome youths and male nudes, stripped of religion-associated guilt, suggest a celebration of paganism, a quality that also permeates Alekos Fassianos’ anthropocentric paintings. Sotiris Sorongas’ turn to antiquity is used as a vehicle to address existential matters. And Bokoros comes up with symbolic compositions to suggest the longevity of painting. Greek sculpture is represented through the work of Christos Kapralos, Ioannis Avramidis and Thodoros.

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