A cult figure’s latest adventures

The invention of characters is usually something done by authors rather than painters. It seems that the most engaging characters and sophisticated personifications of reality emerge in fiction rather than in the visual arts, perhaps because storytelling is not as strong an aspect of painting as it is in literature. Yet, it is out of the work of an artist that an interesting persona of contemporaneity emerged roughly around a decade ago. She is Mrs Tependris, the fictional muse of artist Konstantin Kakanias, who has made her the protagonist of charming and amusing, if not tenderly sarcastic, stories of a postmodern, lifestyle. Mrs Tependris, a wealthy, cosmopolitan, anorexic and fashion-obsessed New York-based «grande dame,» experiences life in spurts and fixations, as dictated by her neuroses. Following her obsession with art, sports is what comes next. In her latest adventure, Kakanias sets his character in Athens, just a few months before the Olympics. Enchanted by the «Olympic spirit,» Mrs Tependris sets out to try her skill in athletics. Bursting with enthusiasm, zeal and her typical megalomania, she contests in all the Games and unabashedly proclaims herself the winner in all. There is, of course, no competitor to surpass, just many paid fans who have arrived from rural Greece to applaud. In the process, Mrs Tependris experiences panic, much worry but also moments of relief and accomplishment. These moments are wonderfully captured in «Mrs Tependris… Just before the Olympic Games in Athens (The Triumph of Chic),» an exhibition of the artist’s drawings on view at the Hellenic World Cultural Center, as well as in the book that is available at the Rebecca Kamhi Gallery. Both projects were commissioned from the artist by the General Secretariat for the Olympic Games (which belongs to the Ministry of Culture) that has organized the exhibition along with the Kamhi Gallery. It is a wonderfully pleasant exhibition that shows Kakanias’s skill in drawing, his sophisticated taste in color and deft, witty imagination. A Greek artist based in Hollywood, Kakanias has a successful background in the field of fashion and illustration: He worked as a textile designer for Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix and Jil Sander, a window-display designer for Tiffany’s and Barneys and as an illustrator for Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New York Times. (For the occasion of the current publication, Kakanias has also designed a limited edition scarf and ladies’ handbag design for the Vassilis Zoulias Old Athens boutique in Kolonaki.) His background in fashion reflects in Mrs Tependris and her obsession with whatever is chic. Page after page in Kakanias’s book shows this strange character – she is always shown in profile with a pointed, long nose and extravagant, 1970s hairdo – dressed in the trendiest, chicest outfits. Pucci, John Galliano, Miu Miu, vintage Madame Gres, Jean Desses and Halston and shoes by Christian Louboutin are some of the names that make up a sophisticated and eccentric wardrobe, especially as it is all used for sports. Mrs Tependris would not be caught dead in something less chic, that is. She revels in extravagance and feels no qualms about doing so. She lives for the moment and would do anything to stay young, fit and chic. Is this good or bad? Kakanias leaves the question open. His introduction to the book is a humorous, flowing essay on life in Hollywood, and its young, yet fake, character. Accepting and light yet biting and critical, his essay communicates the same ambiguity that his character does. Mrs Tependris is a character that amuses yet raises serious questions about contemporary life. It encompasses both lightness and seriousness in an inseparable whole. This is what probably makes Mrs Tependris such a lovable and enduring cult figure, a superficial character who addresses profound issues. At the Hellenic World Cultural Center, Building No. 7 (254 Pireos, 210.483.5300) through April 18.

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