Art inspired by Greek myth

Over the seeming objectivity of history, Jean Cocteau preferred the imaginary world of mythology. «I always preferred mythology to history. History is made up of truths that are proven to be lies but mythology of lies that are made real,» he once said. A poet, playwright, artist and filmmaker at the epicenter of the interwar Parisian avant-garde, Cocteau (1889-1963) had a particularly strong interest in Greek mythology. He revived the Classics to make them relevant to modern times and used heroes of Greek mythology to speak of modern issues. «Jean Cocteau and Greece,» an exhibition that is on for a few more days at the Benaki Museum shows Cocteau’s examination of Greek mythology as expressed in the artist’s work in the visual arts – the drawings, sculptures, ceramics, engravings and sculptures that he produced throughout his life. Also at the Benaki, the exhibition «The Myths of Friedrich Durrenmatt» shows another, different perspective on the myths of Greece. The Swiss writer Friedrich Durrenmatt (1921-1990) was inspired by Greek tragedy in his plays and novels that, in most cases, dealt with the notions of justice, paradox and the grotesque, dark side of modern societies. The pages of his books are in many cases interspersed with his ink drawings in which the heroes of Greek mythology – the Minotaur, Pythia or Orestis – are recurring themes. In the Benaki exhibition, hundreds of his drawings and engravings (owned by his wife, Charlotte Kerr Durrenmatt) are presented in an original display designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta. In a dimly lit exhibition space, the drawings are suspended from the ceiling in plexiglass, double-faced frames. Painted in an expressionist style, Durrenmatt’s drawings contain both humor and criticism. The fluid, Matisse-like lines in the drawings of Cocteau are the opposite of Durrenmatt’s boldstyle. Durrenmatt was intrigued by the Minotaur, Cocteau by Orpheus. The latter’s first avant-garde film, «Le sang d’un poet» in 1930, was part of a trilogy with Orpheus as a hero. Cocteau visited Greece three times, the first time in the mid-1930s. «When I approach Greece, I always feel the same kind of pleasure – a sort of elation,» he wrote. As in the work of other artists of his generation, Greece and its mythology symbolized a Mediterranean haven, an idea that transcended time. His drawings are filled with that vision. «Jean Cocteau and Greece» and «The Myths of Friedrich Durrenmatt» at the Benaki Museum’s Pireos wing (138 Pireos, 210.345.3111) to Sunday.

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