A provocative, defiant art era

Increasingly during the past decade, global political events have become the subject of documentation and criticism in the work of contemporary artists. Yet, compared to the late 1960s and through the 1970s, when art took a vigorous political stance, the relationship of today’s art with politics lacks the sharpness and sense of direct outcry that it did back then. This difference is what makes «The Years of Defiance, the Art of the ’70s in Greece,» an exhibition organized by the National Museum of Contemporary Art and housed at the new wing of the Athens Concert Hall, resonate with the definite feel of something bygone – perhaps nostalgia for those who witnessed the art of the 1970s – and yet likely remains foreign to younger generations. Curated by Bia Papadopoulou, the exhibition is, however, an important documentation of a significant period in the history of 20th century art. This is because, besides its political underpinnings, the early 1970s was a time when art in Greece was synchronizing itself with the worldwide artistic currents. It is a tightly woven exhibition that includes representative works by 54 artists, all of them classic names in the history of Greek modern art. In most of the works, protest, resistance and – in some cases – direct references to the Greek junta, the Vietnam War or the political protests that were taking place all over the world at the time are the prominent traits. Demos Skoulakis, for example, depicts darkly painted scenes of political riots and pays tribute to Nikos Belogiannis, a Communist party activist who was executed in the early ’50s to whom another artist, Sotiris Sorongas also alludes. Like Skoulakis, Dimitris Perdikidis paints in the style of critical realism; he was one of the first artists to address the Cyprus issue in painting. The 1970s were also an era for collective action in art. Artists formed groups and set out the objectives of an art which was meant to be socially and politically involved. The short-lived «New Greek Realists» that operated from 1971-74 is one of the most well-known examples of the artistic groups in the 1970s. (Peggy Kounenaki’s essay in the exhibition’s supplementing catalog lists the groups that were active during this decade.) Its members, including Yannis Psychopedis, Yannis Valavanidis, Cleopatra Dinga and Chronis Botsoglou, all worked in a similar, realistic, figurative style. Besides looking at politics as subject matter for art, the exhibition also reminds the viewer of the political situation as a context for the production and presentation of art. Some of the works made by the artists represented in the exhibition were repeatedly censored, including Ilias Dekoulakos’s photorealist nudes. In their quest for a politically and socially engaging visual language, artists in the 1970s also broadened the scope of art, challenged the role of galleries and the idea of art as a commodity and broadened their work to include performances, happenings, videos, land art works and environments. This stylistic variety is yet another aspect of the «political» aspect of art in the 1970s and a trait which the exhibition succeeds in communicating. From the famous, politically charged installations of human effigies by Vlassis Caniaris to the joyful, colorful paintings of Alexis Akrithakis or the documentations of the performances by Thodoros, the exhibition organized by the National Museum of Contemporary Art unravels the different yet interconnected aspects of a lively and defiant art. In the end, it reveals that art is essentially a reflection of the time in which it is created. At the new wing of the Athens Concert Hall (Vassilissis Sofias & 1 Kokkali) through May 7. Info: tel 210.924.2111 or log on to