The Katakouzenos cultural legacy

Over time, some things tends to become idealized while others are forgotten. The lives of distinguished psychiatrist Angelos Katakouzenos and his wife, writer Leto Katakouzenou, and their presence in the social and cultural life of Athens from the 1930s through the 70s are not only fondly remembered today but seen as the expression of a bygone haute bourgeois savoir-vivre and intellectual proclivity. The preservation of this memory is due to the Angelos and Leto Katakouzenos Foundation which, presided over by Niki Goulandris and run by two committed young people (Sofia Peloponnissiou-Vassilakou and George Manginis), has, since 2008, transformed the Katakouzenos apartment on the fifth floor of a building on Amalias Avenue (which was their home from the late 50s on) into a museum. The purposes of the foundation – the idea for which came from Leto Katakouzenou before she passed away – is to preserve the house exactly as Leto left it (a necessary renovation took place before the house opened to the public) and to organize cultural events and exhibitions much in the way the couple had entertained guests in their lifetime. In «Tea at Mrs Katakouzenou’s,» an exhibition that opened last Monday and is curated by Iris Kritikou, jewelry, furniture and decorative objects by Marios Voutsinas have been distributed throughout the rooms of the house. Many of the pieces were inspired by the Katakouzenos legacy and were made with the house in mind as a setting. Bulky jewelry made of metal and stones – Voutsinas’s favorite materials – are laid out in the boudoir, bedroom and against the balcony door of the living room, and presented more like sculptures than accessories. Writing utensils in the office, study and rich library of the late psychiatrist or lighting fixtures in the dining room give a sense of the exhibition’s broad range. Like all of the exhibition’s held at the Katakouzenos House Museum (KHM), there is that warm feeling of having been invited to someone’s home. The hostess is not present, but the guests are given access to all the rooms and the small treasures that are so telling of the people that once lived here. Although approximately 40 paintings have been removed for security reasons and are kept in a safe-deposit box – among the paintings is Marc Chagall’s portrait of Leto Katakouzenou – there are still many valuable works of art and objects to be seen. The dining room’s four-panel mahogany door, which was painted by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, a close friend of the couple, is among the most impressive pieces. Drawings by the same artist fill the rest of the rooms. Works by the naif painter Theophilos indicate the appreciation by the couple and their generation of Greek tradition. All of the paintings were gifts made to the couple by the artists. None were purchased. This is just one indication of how closely enshrouded the Katakouzenos couple were in the intellectual and artistic life of Athens. The literary gatherings organized at their home were established events frequented by the most important members of the so-called Thirties Generation, a generation that combined modernism with Greece’s cultural uniqueness. Among them were George Seferis, Odysseus Elytis, Yorgos Theotokas, Aggelos Terzakis, Andreas Empeirikos, painter Yiannis Tsarouchis and composer Manos Hadjidakis. The milieu extended to an international circle of intellectuals. The foundation’s rich photographic archive (which is shown upon request) includes photographs featuring gatherings of many of these people at the Katakouzenos house. These were people of the same generation as the couple and shared similar, progressive ideas. Just as the Angelos and Leto Katakouzenos did during their lifetimes, the foundation places its focus on the work of contemporary artists and writers and not on older generations. Within the context of the KHM, the foundation’s event brings the past and the present together and continues the late couple’s vision. «Tea at Mrs Katakouzenou’s» at the KHM (4 Amalias, 5th floor, to December 31. Open Mondays-Fridays, 3-7 p.m., and weekends, noon – 4 p.m. Hours for 31/12: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Closed 25 & 26/12.

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