The politics of Vlassis Caniaris

Each time Vlassis Caniaris exhibits his work, the event is billed as a major one. This is because even though Caniaris draws inspiration from ordinary daily life, his work operates as an irritable response toward it. Insistent and unshakable in his principles, the artist constantly strives to capture the spirit of the times and accordingly make his criticism with contemporary, direct, political, often subversive works of art. It is in this spirit that he appears to have chosen works for the «Diadromes 1975-2004» exhibition, a show inaugurated at the Hania Municipal Gallery on July 11 (which runs to September 15). The exhibition features 40 works representing various points in his career. Even though Caniaris himself doesn’t want the show to be deemed a retrospective, in reality it is one, as it showcases the essence of his artistic creation. The show goes back to the so-called amorphous paintings he developed in 1957; his intervention on newspaper clippings in 1958 – indirectly criticizing their context; the signs reminiscent of the Greek civil war which he sought to erase from Athenian walls; the barbed wire of the 1960s. Visitors take a look at his wall designs, where the first rags he was to use later on also appear; the empty garments – a commentary on the emptiness of appearances; the icons with the pop art elements he made in the 1960s. In 1969, the artist created his first directly political works, criticizing the dictatorship. This was followed by his reaction to the emerging racism through a series of plaster sculptures, which paved the way for his first installations. «The Immigrants» series described the harsh living conditions of Greek immigrants in Germany; the artist was living in Germany on a DEADE scholarship at the time. The show also includes pieces from his most recent work, going on display for the first time. Here Caniaris indirectly criticizes the Greek economic situation as it is recorded in the press. For many, Caniaris is the political artist par excellence, though he himself denies it. «I have always been interested in humanism, as opposed to politics, and above all, the political stance of the parties. I always wanted to do what I felt like doing and that created problems all the time,» said the artist to Kathimerini recently. A pioneer of the 1960s generation, Caniaris went beyond Greek boundaries, exhibiting his works in major shows in Italy, France, Germany and the United States. He managed to develop his own artistic language and converse with international artistic movements, while serving modernism in the best possible way. That is why the Hania exhibition (organized by art historian and National Gallery curator Marilena Z. Kasimati) is a major artistic event.