A brief survey of modern Greek sculpture at the Glyptotheque

In a country whose ancient civilization has left behind masterpieces of sculpture, it makes sense that sculptors feature among the greatest names in the history of modern Greek art. The artists who occupy a central position in the history of Greek art include: Pavlos Prosalentis, who is considered to be the first sculptor to work in an academic style at the beginning of the 19th century; Yannoulis Chalepas, a truly unique talent and personality; Dimitrios Filippotis and his classicizing yet realistic depiction of the human figure; Costas Dimitriadis with his Rodin-like style; and, later, Thanassis Apartis and Christos Kapralos. Yet until recently no Greek museum had a special section on Greek sculpture. The National Sculpture Gallery (also known as the National Glyptotheque) of the National Gallery fills in that missing gap. The gallery opened recently at the renovated premises of the Goudi Military Park. The project was funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. In one of the two 19th century buildings (former stables which served the Greek army), a permanent display traces the history of Greek sculpture from the traditional marble sculptures produced in Tinos (they were part of the architecture of buildings) to the present. The first part of the display that chronologically reaches the postwar period is the strongest. Chalepas’s sculptures stand out and the stylistic shift of his art over the years is impressive. The influence of his teacher, Leonidas Drosis, one of the most important neoclassical Greek sculptors, is evident in «Satyr Playing with Eros» or in the «Reposing» female figure, the famous tomb sculpture for which Chalepas is known. The first phase of his work ends when the artist was hospitalized in 1888 at Corfu’s psychiatric clinic, a period which lasted 15 years. Chalepas did not start systematically working again until 1916, when he began producing sculptures of raw surfaces and a half-finished, primitivizing effect. A selection of those sculptures is included in the exhibition and shows the full range of this great artist’s talent. While Chalepas chose mostly subjects taken from Greek antiquity, other artists working at the time began to distance themselves from allegorical themes. The sculpture of a «Woodcutter» by Dimitrios Filippotis or «Child with a crab» by Giorgios Vroutos are classical in style yet their subject matter has an analogy with realism in painting. The 20th century Beginning in the interwar period, some of the most important Greek sculptors came to prominence. They include: Christos Kapralos, who anticipated modernism; Thanassis Apartis, who was a pupil of Antoine Bourdelle in Paris; and Michalis Tombros, whose work carries the influence of Aristide Maillol. Kapralos and Memos Makris were artists who helped pave the way for abstraction, which, just as with painting, was established in the postwar period. This is where the exhibition at the National Gallery’s Glyptotheque becomes more fragmentary and weaker. Overall, however, the display gives a general impression of the course of Greek modern sculpture. Three sculptures ill-positioned at the entrance of the building are by international artists. «La therapeute» by Rene Magritte was donated to the National Gallery by Alexandros Iolas in 1971. Antoine Bourdelle’s «Head of Apollo» is a recent acquisition. «The Bird» is by the Spanish contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava, who was commissioned for several projects during the Athens Olympics and, before that, had a retrospective show of his work at the National Gallery. At the National Glyptotheque, Military Park, Goudi (off Katehaki Avenue), tel 210.770.9855.