CULTURE

An institute reveals its collection

In the past couple of years, the National Museum of Contemporary Art has organized a series of exhibitions that have put on view parts of its permanent collections, usually under a particular theme each time. Up until now, most of these exhibitions have focused on the museum’s contemporary art acquisitions. «7 + 7: From the Collections of the National Museum of Contemporary Art» is an exception in revealing the collection’s more «classic» works, beginning with the postwar period through to the 1970s. These are mixed with more contemporary works, thus constituting, in sum, a wider, historical perspective on the evolution of 20th century art. The exhibition being held in the exhibition hall at the Athens Concert Hall (the venue that has most recently hosted the museum’s exhibitions, as it has closed its permanent premises at the former Fix brewery for renovation) is aimed at promoting two major strands in 20th century art: the focus on pictorial values and the medium itself, which, as the museum’s director claims in her introduction, runs through late modernism as well as the focus on cultural, historical and social issues that followed in the art of the past few decades. The 14 artists in the exhibition are divided between these two strands: Yiannis Spyropoulos, Chryssa and Nikos Kessanlis are among those who fit the «pictorial values» concern, while Bill Viola, Ilya Kabakov and Vlassis Caniaris are said to represent more sociopolitical art. These are general classifications that should not be taken strictly as such divisions in art usually underestimate its complexity. The works should better be seen autonomously, and the exhibition as a condensed course in some of the important moments in 20th century art. The mixed technique paintings of Yiannis Spyropoulos, a pioneer of modernism in Greece, is the first stopover in this course. (The museum has acquired the works on loan from the Yiannis and Zoe Spyropoulos Collection.) Typical of postwar abstraction, the paintings are remarkable for their gestural quality, their elaborate texture, their dark, earthy palette and sturdy compositions. At the opposite end, the neon-lit works of Stephen Antonakos use spare, geometric and minimalist-inspired shapes, together with the fluorescence of neon light to create a wonderful sense of tranquility and repose together with subtle spiritual connotations. There are also neon-based works by Chryssa, a rough contemporary of Antonakos, who, like him, is also based in New York. The exhibition also includes works by some of the pioneers of the so-called 1960s Generation, the first generation in Greece to decidedly break away from the more traditional forms of art and keep pace with the international experimentation that swept through art in the ’60s. Nikos Kessanlis, Costas Tsoclis and Vlassis Caniaris are among them and their works in the exhibition show each artist’s distinctive style. The human effigies in Caniaris’s installation from the ’70s are a recurring motif in his work. They are part of an installation from the artist’s «Immigrants series,» a forceful expression of the sociopolitical content in the artist’s work. A highlight of the exhibition and one of the gems of the museum’s permanent holdings, is Ilya Kabakov’s «The Boat of my Life,» a huge installation comprising a 17-meter wooden boat on which the artist has positioned cardboard boxes containing clothing and an array of household items. On top of each box, the artist has placed cardboard with photographs and small objects, supplemented by captions which the artist describes as «fragmented recollections of episodes» in his life. Musing and slightly melancholic, the installation is a metaphor for one’s passage through life and all the baggage – material and mental – that we vainly carry through life’s course. Giorgos Hadzimichalis’s «Schiste Odos: The crossroad where Oedipus killed Laius» is another of the exhibition’s large and engaging installations. It is also representative of the artist’s work in that it expresses his concern with history, its reconstruction and our understanding of it. In a separate section, one can also watch several of Rebecca Horn’s videos, some documentations of her performances from the 1970s and other independent videos from the ’80s and ’90s. (Different works are projected throughout the course of the exhibition.) A varied and flowing exhibition, «7+7» is a well-balanced presentation of the museum’s contents and is well divided between the works of Greek and international artists. By bringing out parts of its permanent collection – most shown for the first time – it also provides a better understanding of the museum’s profile. «7 + 7» at the Athens Concert Hall (Vassilissis Sofias and Kokkali, 210.728.2000) to May 30. The museum online The National Museum of Contemporary Art has created a detailed website (www.emst.gr) with updated info about the museum and its activities, its history, the process of the renovation works carried out on the museum’s premises and its educational programs. The museum plans to enrich the site with virtual exhibitions and virtual, interactive educational programs and discussions about art, all open to the website’s visitor. The project aims at drawing a wider public to art and the museum. The site will also provide access to the museum’s permanent collection and its archives.