Importance of place as carved in time

Amid the numerous contemporary art exhibitions currently taking place in Athens, one stands out for drawing attention to postwar Greek art and helping to link the present with the past. «Place and Figure,» which is curated by Denys Zacharopoulos (he has written an extensive essay in the supplementary catalog), includes the works of 14 artists – mostly sculptors – who pioneered abstraction and introduced some kind of artistic innovation into the art of this country. Quite appropriately for an exhibition that shows respect for history, it is held at the Museum of the City of Athens, a museum tied to the history of the Greek capital. «Place and Figure» is also a partial representation of the Paraskevas collection, a private art collection that the late renowned attorney Elias Paraskevas began in the late 1930s. His son Dimitris Paraskevas, also a lawyer, came up with the idea of the exhibition as a way of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the law office established by his father, of which he has been in charge since 1991. The exhibition is also seen as part of the activities of the non-profit organization «Elias S. Paraskevas 1912-1991,» which was founded a decade ago with the objective of providing scholarships to emerging lawyers and supporting cultural activities. What also sparked the idea for this exhibition was a photograph dating from 1934 that Dimitris Paraskevas found, in which his father and his artist friend Alekos Kontopoulos are portrayed next to the eminent sculptor Yiannoulis Halepas in his old age, looking at one of his reclining sculptures. Both artists are seen as symbolizing, each to a different extent and for different periods, innovation in Greek art. For sculpture, the contribution of Halepas to 20th century abstraction is deemed of great significance. The exhibition traces this course of innovation through the work of artists who matured in the interwar and postwar periods all the way to contemporary artists who are today in their late 40s. Giorgos Lappas, Thanassis Totsikas and Costas Varotsos are of this younger generation. The break with traditional sculpture and an interest in how sculpture engages with space and architecture is the underlying theme that pulls the exhibition’s artists together. The work of Giorgos Zongolopoulos, the oldest artist in the exhibition, illustrates the point, particularly his public sculpture that stands in several parts of Athens. Klearchos Loukopoulos, a near contemporary of Zongolopoulos, also had architectural concerns. He actually worked on several projects together with the renowned architect Aris Constantinidis, who viewed modern architecture not merely in functionalist or formalist terms, but as being conversant with the culture, tradition and history of the place in which it is constructed. His photographs, which are included in the exhibition, illustrate this broad perception of architecture. Roughly contemporary with Constantinidis is Achilleas Apergis; his typical attenuated, gnawed structures are on display. For him too, place was important and his works from the 1970s, which blended architecture with music performances (in cooperation with composer Ianis Xenakis) and installations are an example. Costas Koulentianos, who also spent much of his life in Paris, was one of the artists who worked on public sculpture commissions for the French government. «Place and Figure» also includes some works by Steven Antonakos, known for his public sculpture all over the world, Chryssa, who like Antonakos also uses neon in some of her public works, Vlassis Kaniaris, Thodoros and Michalis Katzourakis. It is a varied mix since each of the above artists have worked in different styles and concepts. What pulls them together in the current exhibition is a general concept that could fit other pioneers of abstraction, or artists who extended the definition of the word artist. Since, however, this is an exhibition that draws on a private collection, the possibilities are limited. Despite its fragmentary aspect, «Place and Figure» provides the stimulus to think about historical developments in Greek art. With its power to enrich our understanding of the present, it’s a worthwhile task. At the Museum of the City of Athens (7 Paparigopoulou, Klafthmonos Square, 210.323.1397). To January 31.