‘Genethlion,’ an exhibition linking past and present

If you’re planning to visit the Benaki Museum for the Vlassis Kaniaris exhibition, there’s no need to go looking for a designated hall hosting his works. This is because the «Genethlion» (Birthday) exhibit is an invitation to discover not only the works of the artist, but the entire universe of the Benaki Museum’s central unit too. Made from cheap materials, you might mistake Kaniaris’s figures for real people as they stand facing the artwork of the museum’s permanent collections. In this way, the artist appears to de-idolize the seriousness and emotional charge often associated with museum visits. Kaniaris’s figures take a range of positions: sitting on an antique carved trunk, leaning lightly on a mosaic icon hailing from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, staring an ancient kouros in the face, or seemingly bursting into the reception area of an 18th-century mansion. «Kaniaris is an artist who respects tradition and despises academic pretension, fighting against superficial decorative art through the experience of politics and history,» notes Benaki Museum director Angelos Delivorrias in the exhibition’s catalog. This might be one of the most intelligent displays ever to appear in a Greek museum – the exhibition was curated by Manos Stefanidis. As for the artist himself, he defines the exhibition’s scattered display arrangement as an «invasion-cohabitation» of his works alongside those of the museum’s collections. An invasion, however, which is not offensive and a cohabitation which turns out to be rather intelligent and creative. Throughout the exhibition, visitors come across various figures of children; some are on skates, others are playing on a bomb while yet others lend their bodies to a waste bin – an underlining sense of continuity of life and art with an accompanying sense of optimism. The exhibition’s works do not carry titles. «Because ultimately, they never truly had titles to begin with. They operate as a link, a presence, as a kind of continuity of things that existed in the past,» writes Kaniaris in the catalog. And his figures surely offer this kind of continuity: These are yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s local and global people. «Genethlion» is on display at the Benaki Museum (1 Koumbari, tel 210.367.1000) unti March 2.

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