An artistic vision of the Cycladic world

When Dolly and Nikos Goulandris began collecting antiquities in the early 1960s, they had no idea than roughly 20 years down the road they would become the founders of an internationally reputable museum which, besides the Goulandris collection, would also become the permanent home for important private collections and donations and would help antiquities to return to Greece. But they always hoped their collection would someday become accessible to the public, so when the first viewing of the collection was held at the Benaki Museum in 1978, the Goulandris couple was open to proposals for international exhibitions: The new wing of the National Gallery in Washington DC opened with an exhibition on the collection. A worldwide tour of the collection followed in the course of the next four years. The donation of the collection to the Goulandris Foundation and the opening of the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens came as a natural extension of the collection’s public outing. The museum grew rapidly and held a succession of important exhibitions on Cycladic and ancient Greek art but also on modern and contemporary art (exhibitions on Moore, Picasso and Dali, among others) especially in respect to antiquities. It is therefore not surprising that, for its 20th anniversary, the museum welcomed the idea of art critic and director of the Pierides Foundation, Takis Mavrotas, for an exhibition that presents a selection of Greek photography inspired by the Cycladic spirit. «The Cyclades through the Lens of 20 Contemporary Greek Artists,» which opens Friday evening at the museum’s Megaron Stathatos wing, is a visually varied and sophisticated exhibition that evokes the mystery and magic of the Cycladic civilization. An interesting aspect of the exhibition is that it brings together works by photographers, painters and sculptors, thus offering the viewer different perspectives on the subject. For some artists, the exhibition was an occasion for them to explore new ground. It was the first time that Socrates Mavromatis, for example, who has been the official photographer for the Committee for the Preservation of the Acropolis Monument for the past 25 years, has taken a look at a Cycladic idol through his photographic lens. The photograph presented at the exhibition is a stunning closeup of a Cycladic figurine and offers the viewer a rare viewing of the texture and surface details of an ancient artifact. Like Mavromatis, Platon Rivellis, Paris Petridis, Marina Vernikou and Katerina Kaloudi all work exclusively with photography, which is maybe why they have all produced black-and-white images. Of an unusual, vertical or horizontal format, the pictures by Rivellis (a photographer who is also known as a theoretician and teacher of photography) have a strange austerity about them, an engaging stillness and strength. They show the spare rural landscape of the Cyclades and have a minimalism very much akin to that of Cycladic art. Cycladic art is often compared to the abstraction of modern art. The photographs of both Katerina Kaloudi and Paris Petridis share that sense of abstraction. The textures and shapes of a seashore’s rocky formations are juxtaposed against the rippling sea, evoking a connection between the land and the art of the Cycladic civilization. In the photograph by Petridis, a long stretch of mountainous land and its reflection on the water form an abstract shape very much like that of a Cycladic idol. Marina Vernikou’s photograph of the acropolis of Aghios Andreas on Sifnos is replete with the atmosphere of the Cycladic islands; the strong winds, blinding light and sense of mystery. While photographers focus more on the angle from which an image is taken, the painters participating in the exhibition have produced images that have a painterly feeling and a more fictional aspect. Yiannis Adamakos, for instance, explores the play of light and shadow on Cycladic idols, while in Christos Bokoros’s photographs, candlelight flickering on the image’s foreground replicates the glitter on the surface of the sea at dusk. The photographs produced by the exhibition’s painters are very much like their paintings. Michalis Makroulakis, for instance has produced photographs that have the lucidity and clearness of his photorealist paintings and Marina Karella creates the same sense of a diaphanous veil that typifies many of her paintings. Another painter, Yiannis Psychopaidis, alludes to art history as well as historical events both in his painting and in his photographs of a woman holding a Cycladic idol; the subject is modeled after a Man Ray picture. Other artists follow a more conceptual approach. Maria Loizidi, for instance, appropriates a Cycladic idol to raise issues related to contemporary, daily life. Contemporary Greece is also evoked through an image taken from the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The photograph is taken by Socratis Socratous, the official photographer of the ceremony. The industrial parts that Panayiotis Tanimanidis has used to frame his picture give a sculptural feeling to his otherwise conceptual rendition of the Cyclades. The egg-shaped balloon that is worn as a mask in the videos of Nikos Navridis replicate the shape of a Cycladic idol. Resembling an archaeologist’s drawing, the photography of Dimitris Kozaris compares the measurements of a Cycladic figurine with the ratios of classical art. A round-shaped photograph by George Lappas seems like a fragment of a dream. In what can be taken as a Freudian approach, excavating the past is seen as a metaphor for delving into one’s unconscious. A photographic collage by Nikos Haralambides shows the artist’s typical iconoclastic approach to contemporary, cultural issues. «Artemis» by Costas Tsoclis combines a sculptural, trompe l’oeil effect while also evoking the goddess who was born on Delos. Nikos Alexiou has photographed one of his frail-looking constructions of bamboo shoots. The ethereal quality, both of the construction and the photograph and its mysterious provenance, takes the viewer back on a journey in time. Seen against this photograph, Maria Papadimitriou’s image of gold-colored waters shines with light. It was taken at dawn on the island of Syros. A signpost that reads MOMAS (the post is actually a work that American artist Christopher Wool made for MOMAS, a project by the late Martin Kippenberger) interrupts a serene image with a surreal effect. Papadimitriou’s image blends the contemporary with the unchanging, art with nature. Its surreal effect evokes a sense of mystery. In many ways, the image sums up the various aspects of the exhibition. Mystery is the word that conveys our understanding of the Cycladic civilization and contemporary art is the means through which the museum has chosen to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The Museum of Cycladic Art, is, after all, young, not in years or experience but in its approach and dynamism. Upcoming plans include a new annex that will open with an exhibition on the work of the late Alexis Akrithakis and a large, ambitious exhibition for spring that will show the connections between Cycladic and modern art. Like the current exhibition, it will be one more way to bring Cycladic art closer to the contemporary public, which is what the museum has been successfully doing for the past 20 years. At the Museum of Cycladic Art (Megaron Stathatou, 4 Neofytou Douka, tel 210.722.8321) through February 27. The Bank of Cyprus is the exhibition’s sponsor.