Art to brighten up the holidays

For those needing a break from the Christmas shopping spree, the art exhibitions that are currently being held in Athens are most likely to offer a pleasant respite and a rewarding experience. At the Pireos Street annex of the Benaki Museum, the Stephen Antonakos retrospective exhibition that just opened to the public traces the work of the well-known New York-based artist of Greek descent, from his first works in the early 1950s to the present. Antonakos was one of the first artists to make use of neon lights in art during the 1960s. His work consists of abstract geometric shapes and structures sometimes combined with neon lighting to create a play with light and architecture. Among his most monumental and impressive works are the «Chapel» and «Meditation Rooms» series, some of them actual structures that are intended as places of meditation and introspection. The exhibition is curated by Katerina Koskina and organized by the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation. (The exhibition runs to March 9.) Also at the Benaki, the large retrospective exhibition on Nikos Engonopoulos is one of the most important events of the year. Organized on the centenary of the surrealist poet and painter’s birth, the exhibition covers the full range of the artist’s work and is the first to show to the public costumes that he artist designed for the Hellenic Chorodrama. Visual references to Engonopoulos’s poetry and prose help deepen the understanding of his work as a painter. (To Jan 20.) At the central building of the Benaki, the work of the Academy Award-winning set designer and painter Vassilis Fotopoulos is the subject of yet another interesting exhibition. The focus is on the inspiration that Fotopoulos took from Byzantine art and culture. A large catalog has been published on the occasion. (To Jan 27.) At the National Gallery, «Classical Memories in Modern Greek Art» is an exhibition focusing on cultural continuity. Curated by Olga Mentzafou, the 80 works on view show the various ways that Greek artists from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day have referenced ancient Greek art in their work. (To Feb 18.) At the Herakleidon museum, the exhibition «Toulouse-Lautrec and the Belle Epoque in Paris and Athens» juxtaposes 70 original works on paper by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with photographs, posters and other material (most of it from the Hellenic Literary and Historical Archives) produced in Athens during the late 19 century. The exhibition explores the influence of the French Belle Epoque on the social and artistic life of Athens. The exhibition is curated by Belinda Firos and Iris Kritikou. (To May 4.) Contemporary The American artist Philip Taaffe emerged on the New York art scene during the 1980s and became involved in appropriation art and Neo-Geo. His work references the tradition of American modernism but also draws much of its inspiration from the cultures of non-Western civilizations. A number of his paintings from 1996-2006, all from the Portalakis Collection, are presented in an exhibition at the Portalakis Collection exhibition space. (To Feb 28.) At the Athens Concert Hall, «In Present Tense: Young Greek Artists» includes works by 34 contemporary Greek artists in the 30s and early 40s age group, and attempts to provide a taste of the current contemporary art scene in Greece. (To Mar 31.) In Thessaloniki, the retrospective of the late artist Dimitris Kontos is another of the year’s most significant exhibitions. Curated by Maria Kotzamani, the exhibition reveals the artist’s incredible skill in drawing. Kontos, who belonged to the Sixties Generation (along with artists such as Costas Tsoclis, Yiannis Gaitis and Vlassis Caniaris), which is credited for introducing an avant-garde, modern style in Greece, adhered to abstraction and was interested in capturing the dimension of space. His «Roman Pictural» from 1968, a book of drawings, is regarded as one of his most innovative works. (To Jan 31.) Among the exhibitions at Athens galleries, the solo exhibition on the work of Yiannis Adamakos at the Nees Morfes gallery shows the skill of the artist in depicting light and creating a sense of transparency through a minimal palette of mainly gray, muted tones. His large paintings seem like landscapes made barely visible in a clouded, misty atmosphere. (To Jan 6.) An exhibition on the work of Aphrodite Liti at the Potnia Thiron gallery evokes the holiday spirit through the fairy-tale-like, surreal sculptures of large butterflies, insects and tree leaves. Magical and sparkling, it will brighten one’s mood. (To Feb 9.) At the Ileana Tounda Contemporary Art Center, an exhibition on the work of Makis Theofylaktopoulos presents a selection of drawings and paintings, in the style of figurative abstraction, from the artist’s output of the last five years. (To Jan 12.)