Modern, creative force in graphics and design

The art that touches on our everyday lives and designs the objects we use or the advertisements we see can have an emotional and intellectual impact that we seldom realize. In «Design Routes,» an exhibition currently being held at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum, hundreds of examples of graphic art and communication design – advertising posters, graphics, packaging design, illustrations for brochures and books – from the 1960s and 70s will make the visitor feel a twinge of nostalgia. Those who grew up in the 60s and 70s will be reminded of their childhood, others will encounter an iconic image of a bygone, more elegant Greece. The exhibition is a tribute to the work of Freddie Carabott, Michalis Katzourakis and Agni Katzouraki, who joined forces in the early 60s and formed K&K – Athens Publicity Center, a pioneering design group that received multiple awards, both Greek and international. It was a creative force that helped establish the then fledgling field of graphic design as an autonomous domain and brought a fresh, modern approach to the aesthetics of communication design. Organized in cooperation with the Greek Literary and Historical Archives (ELIA) and initiated by designer Dimitris Arvanitis who also designed the exhibition’s catalog, the exhibition is an elegant display arranged along a long hallway and ending in a large, circular exhibition space. The images bring to life the mood of an entire era, a period of modernization, urban development and growth in the field of tourism. There are the advertising posters that K&K designed for the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), for the Athens and Epidaurus festivals, all reminders of a cultural boom (the 60s were the years of the so-called Greek Spring) and of Greece’s reputation as a sophisticated tourist destination. Some posters look like paintings and when compared with the computerized, digital technology effects used in contemporary advertisting, they have a wonderful warmth about them. There are also advertisements, package design or logos for some of the most classic Greek consumer products or companies: among them Ivi soft drinks, Karandanis bottled water, Sportex trainer shoes, Kourtakis wine and Myloi Agiou Georgiou flour. They are the reminders of a developing market epitomized by several Greek household names. Many of the designs are still around, such as the logos for National Bank, the Mitera maternity hospital and the Museum of Cycladic Art. In the exhibition, there are also documentations of site-specific, interior design works. The geometric, abstract murals that Michalis Katzourakis made for interiors in the broadcasting department of the Hellenic Radio and Television Foundation (EIRT) or the melamine murals on the Golden Odyssey cruise liner are indicative of broad-ranging creativity. As in the murals, a classic modernist style defined by geometric shapes, minimalism and a tendency toward abstraction was typical of the team’s work. Both as a team and independently, the three designers showed a preference for large areas of a single, bold color, austere lines and clear forms. Clarity – a trait seldom found in contemporary advertisements – in terms of both form and content is what best describes their work. In some advertisements, captions or brief written texts enrich the message: In a 1968 magazine advertisement for the Zanussi brand washing machine, a group of elegantly dressed women carry a banner that reads: «Long live freedom, down with hand washing…» The image evokes the liberation spirit of the late 1960s. The modern, pure visual style in their work was recognizable to an international public. It won them acclaim and opened up the way for international collaborations. It all happened early in their career. The beginning was in 1957. Freddie Carabott, a graphic design graduate from London’s Chelsea and St Martin’s schools, met Michalis Katzourakis, a graphic designer educated in Paris. Carabott, who was also working as an art adviser at the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), asked Katzourakis to join the advisory board. In 1962, Carabott was awarded in an international contest for a poster he had designed for the GNTO. In that same contest, Katzourakis received first prize in the category of painted posters. Encouraged by the success, Carabott and Katzourakis, together with the latter’s wife Agni, a painter who had graduated from London’s Slade School of Fine Art, established the K&K Athens Advertising Center. (D. Tsopelas and P. Kannovos were associates). Awards, both Greek and international, followed on an annual basis. The Rizzoli Award for best Greek advertisement was given to them from 1964-1969. In the mid-70s, their collaboration came to an end. The field was gradually changing. In his essay written for the exhibition catalog, graphic designer Spyros Karachristos refers to the advent of multinational companies and of advertising conglomerates as important factors of change. Although no longer a team, each designer continued their creative work individually. In 1974, Katzourakis founded AMK Architects & Designers and turned to interior design. Agni Katzouraki followed four years later. Since 1979, Carabott has been working as a freelance designer. Michalis Katzourakis focused on painting and sculpture and Agni Katzouraki specialized in interior design and decoration but also accepts selected graphic design commissions. The Benaki Museum exhibition includes some of these later works. However, its focus is on the 60s and 70s, the period when K&K made an innovative mark in the field of visual communication and paved the way for the designers that followed. The exhibition documents an important chapter in 20th-century Greek graphic design, a body of work that provided inspiration for artists and created images that are still remembered. «Design Routes» at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum (138 Pireos & Andronikou, 210.345.3111) through March 23.