A museum for one of Greece’s great modernists

A museum for one of Greece’s great modernists

Just over 100 years have passed since the birth of Yannis Gaitis (1923-1984) and Greece is finally set to acquire a museum dedicated to one of its pre-eminent modernist painters.

According to events organizer EuroMare, which has been responsible for coordinating the project since 2020, the Gaitis-Simossi Museum (named after the artist and his partner, sculptor Gabriella Simossi) will be formally launched on September 14 on the island of Ios. The opening will coincide with a conference on his life and work that will be moderated by Irene Orati, the artistic director of the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation, which is supporting the event.

“Yannis Gaitis was a native of Tinos but he went to Ios in the mid-1960s during what was a very difficult time for him, after losing both his parents,” the chairman of the new museum’s board, Haris Antonopoulos, told Kathimerini during a recent conversation, which also included art historian Yannis Bolis.

Ios may not have been Gaitis’ native island, but he loved it and he built a house there, to his own design. He spent an increasing amount of time there from the early 1970s until his death in 1984, with the location becoming a point of reference in his work.

‘It is a wonderful stone structure that is intrinsically connected to the artist’s oeuvre, while it also respects the natural landscape and the local architecture’

This explains why his daughter Loretta Gaitis, an architect and museologist, wanted a museum that would showcase a significant part of the opus on this island. The museum was designed by Loretta Gaitis and her husband Jacques Charrat. It is situated on a beautifully located piece of land ceded by the municipal authority near the main town, Hora, with a marvelous view of the Aegean.

Construction of the museum began in 2007 with funding from the European Union via the Ministry of Culture. The project came to a standstill, for a variety of reasons, but then got back on track.

“It is a wonderful stone structure that is intrinsically connected to the artist’s oeuvre, while it also respects the natural landscape and the local architecture,” Antonopoulos comments.

Gaitis’ signature male figure with the bowler hat features in many different ways and forms all over the 2,000-square meter building, which will host 16 of his paintings and 31 constructions on painted wood.

“These are large constructions that he began creating in the late 1960s and particularly in the 1970s. They mark the moment when his famous ‘little man’ was brought to life in three dimensions,” says Bolis.

As for the paintings, they represent the artist’s entire trajectory from abstraction in the 1950s to the appearance of the human figure, who eventually evolved into the faceless “little man” in the striped jacket and bowler hat – a symbol of a faceless mass culture.

The museum is even more interesting for the fact that it will host the work of Gabriella Simossi in what is the first time that what Bolis describes as her “important but overlooked oeuvre” will have a permanent showcase. The museum’s collection comprises 11 of her sculptures and 32 collages that poignantly illustrate her fascination with hyperrealism.

A small hall in the museum will be dedicated to temporary exhibitions, while there is also a small open-air amphitheater for hosting all sorts of different events. After its launch in September, the Gaitis-Simossi Museum will operate until October and then close for the winter, to reopen again in the spring of 2025.

Gaitis’ ‘Carousel,’ from 1967, has been given to the museum as a long-term loan by the Annie Costopoulos Collection.

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