Olympic spirit inspires artists

Nearing the end of its one-year tour around major Greek cities, an exhibition on the «The Olympic Spirit and Contemporary Greek Art» is currently on in Athens before heading to Patras at the end of the month. Held under the auspices of the General Secretariat of the Olympic Games and organized by Adam/Pergamos publications, the exhibition uses the occasion of the forthcoming Olympic Games as an opportunity to promote contemporary Greek art. It is curated by Peggy Kounenaki, also author of a book on the history of the Olympic Games and its relationship to the visual arts that was published on the occasion of the exhibition by Pergamos-Adam publications. In one of the book’s chapters, Kounenaki mentions that contemporary Greek artists rarely make works related to sport (prevalent in antiquity, the relationship between art and sport is probably considered outmoded) and that most works on the subject are made on commission, usually for the purposes of similar exhibitions. Still, «The Olympic Spirit and Contemporary Greek Art» includes works that go beyond mere depiction and provide an interesting, and sometimes critical, point of view on the Olympic spirit and the Olympic Games. Michalis Manousakis’s painting «After the Finish Line,» for example, shows an arid landscape, a finish line painted at its far end and a looming dark mountain in the background. Is it a metaphor for all the problems that Greece will face after the Olympic Games? Dimitris Antonitsis, whose work frequently addresses current social issues, is another of the exhibition’s artists that offers a critical perspective. Each of the two digital photographs on display demystifies the glamour surrounding the Olympic Games and reveals the fake polish, social pretensions and kitsch surrounding the contemporary version of the renowned «Olympic spirit.» The exhibition also includes more conventional but visually pleasing works: Dimitris Andreadakis, Nikoleta Antonopoulou and Christos Palantzas are among those artists who have painted scenes from particular athletic contests. Most of those works are about the movement and shape of the human body, and in some cases, the visual depiction of the physical exertion, mental focus and psychological strain required in athletics. Besides its variety, another interesting aspect of the exhibition is that it includes works by artists who belong to different generations, thus providing a short course on 20th century Greek art. Kounenaki’s chapter on Greek art and athletics goes as far back as the work of Nikolaos Gyzis and is filled with examples of late 19th and early 20th century artists that consistently addressed sport in their works. Most of those works, however, are not included in the exhibition. The earliest generation represented here is the so-called Thirties Generation. A painting of a cyclist by Yiannis Tsarouchis and a gouache by Constantinos Vyzantios are examples of early works. Confined to a preset subject matter, the exhibition is diverse yet also uneven. Some works are blander than others. But there is also humor, imagination and involvement in social issues. A foretaste of the Olympic Games, it is yet another way of getting a feel for this global event. «The Olympic Spirit and Contemporary Greek Art» at the Cultural Center of the Athens Municipality (50 Academias, 210.362.1601) through June 30.