Yannis Moralis: A self-made anthology

Following the death of Yannis Moralis in December 2009, the National Gallery is presenting a large-scale exhibition of works, including several that the artist donated to the museum in 1988.

The tribute, which was inaugurated on May 12, includes a collection of 113 paintings and drawings covering the artist?s early period up to 1962. The exhibition is complemented by later works, defined by the artist?s abstract creative language, from both private and state collections.

Though the show has a retrospective quality, it is nevertheless entirely different from the 2008 exhibition at the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation?s Museum of Contemporary Art on the island of Andros.

According to National Gallery director Marina Lambraki-Plaka, what differentiates the two shows is that Moralis bequeathed to the Athens institution works that he believed illustrated his creative course up to the 1960s.

?He kept the works until he was 71, bearing in mind that they would represent him after he was gone,? Lambraki-Plaka told Kathimerini as she stood in front of a large black-and-white photograph of the artist. In the photo, a left-handed, handsome and mature Moralis is wearing a stylish ring.

Was Moralis seeking to develop an intellectual and creative heritage long before he died? A kind of memento mori?

?Indeed,? said Lambraki-Plaka, who first met the artist in 1971, when they were both teaching at the Athens School of Fine Arts. ?Moralis had great depth, he was very composed, a man who organized his life and his art. It is no coincidence that throughout his career he only mounted 10 solo exhibitions. His oeuvre was strict, captivating and deeply Greek, in tandem with his moral stance and his general attitude toward life. In his work he was highly preoccupied with the idea of death; he felt that the only antidote was love. His works became increasingly sensual as his matured. My feeling is that he had picked out his best works from an early stage and had kept them for himself. While he subsequently donated them to us he used to come round and see them, even during his final years.?

According to Anny Malama, the show?s curator, the exhibition is divided up into three sections. In the museum?s entrance visitors can see the artist?s final works, which are defined by abstraction. Up on the mezzanine floor are original works which Moralis drew as illustrations for poetry by Giorgos Seferis, while downstairs the basement display presents the early works he donated, along with portraits and grave compositions — working on the latter gradually led him to become more abstract in the way he depicted his subject matter.

Scattered around the displays are photographs, self-portraits and portraits of the artist by his wife, Maria Roussen. At the same time, some works are shown together to create a sense of the artist?s preoccupations.

Walking around the National Gallery, it is evident that Moralis was an artist who identified with the bourgeoisie. His sitters were well-dressed, humble Greeks who led low-profile lives and whose absence is greatly felt today. Meanwhile the artist himself had an innate sense of style, an inward-looking manner which determined his own behavior. His world seems so different from our own.

?Besides showing Moralis?s major contribution, the aim of the exhibition is to offer today?s disappointed Greeks some kind of healing,? said Lambraki-Plaka. ?His paintings are soothing.?

Greek National Gallery, 50 Vassileos Constantinou, tel 210.723.5937-8. To August 29.

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