Flowers, an inspiration for artists

Claude Monet is said to have once claimed that he probably owed having become a painter to flowers. He designed a lush, colorful garden at his home in Giverny and painted the white lilies that floated on the garden’s Japanese-inspired pond in one of his most well-known paintings. Flowers were one of the most traditional themes in painting, yet Monet defied the decorative value that they had for art and used them to articulate the, at the time, innovative concept of impressionism. From a conventional theme in art, flowers became incorporated into compositions that challenged what painting was all about. This example indicates that to think of flowers as an outmoded subject for painting is both a bias and a simplification. Subject matter alone is, after all, not what defines a painting. This comes through in «Affinities: Flowers in Greek Art,» an exhibition that is divided between two cultural venues in Nafplion – the Alpha Bank Cultural Center and the Nafplion annex of the National Gallery. Curated by Eleni Kipreos, the exhibition is the continuation of the large exhibition on the same theme that was held last year at the Benaki Museum. Kipreos and Stavros Tsigoglou were the curators and writers of a book that was published on that occasion. The exhibition’s strong point is its variety, the constant and visually surprising juxtapositions of the modern with the classical and the inclusion of some important works in the history of 20th century Greek art. Chronologically, it stretches from the late 19th century to the present and includes works by roughly 50 artists. In «Springtime,» painted in 1927 by Giorgos Iakovidis (one of the most well-known painters of the Munich School), a semi-nude female figure revels in the odors and colors of the flowers that cover the side table. The painting gushes with sensuality and eroticism. In «Young Woman at the Atelier» by Simeon Saviddis – a contemporary of Iakovidis – there is melancholy and longing. The few flowers close to a young girl reading a letter can be taken both as as a farewell present or as an expression of enduring love. Although still life has not been a prevalent genre in modern and contemporary art, the depiction of flowers has defined the work of Greek artists Thanassis Tsingos and Giorgos Varlamos. The exhibition includes some of their nicest works. Further away, a sculpture from the well-known «Chair Transformations» series by Lucas Samaras shows the effort the curator has made to include a broad range of styles from the more conventional to the most radical. The artificial flowers that cover a chair are a likely commentary on kitsch aesthetics and traditional aesthetics. The plastic shark that is part of the exhibition adds a surreal and humorous effect. A section on photography draws attention to the little-known work of the late photographers Constantinos Georgiadis, Petros Brousalis – whose work includes closeups of plants photographed in a style that resembles the work of Karl Blossfeldt – and Panos Geralis, a teacher of Voula Papaioannou. In the pictures of Nelly’s from the 50s, the smiling, groomed young girls holding flowers hark back to the promise of the American dream. Besides the large works, there are also smaller drawings and pastels. Among them, «Bird of Flowers,» painted on paper by Themos Anninos, is a little gem. Tender and elegant, the composition is indicative of a curatorial approach which prioritizes alternating visual surprises, stylistic contrasts and variety. Like most thematic and broad-ranging exhibitions, this is not where one can gain an in-depth understanding of the work of the artists represented. But it is where one can find visual pleasure and be reminded of the endless imagination that defines art. «Affinities, Flowers in Greek Art,» at the Nafplion branch of the National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum (23 Sidiras Merarchias, 27520.21915) and at the Alpha Bank Cultural Center (4 Koletti, 27520.28161) through October 28.

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