Images of the Greek city as seen by its own artists

Anybody visiting the Neon self-service restaurant on Omonia Square will see a large mural reproduction of Yiannis Tsarouchis’s original painting of the Neon restaurant. It is one of the few images of Athens by Tsarouchis, who was inspired mainly by the port of Piraeus, his birthplace and recurring subject matter in his work. The reproduction is a subtle way of advertising that the restaurant’s renovation was respectful of the building’s original look but it is also a tactful way of bringing a pleasant air of old Athens into the contemporary urban environment. This effect – establishing a continuity between past and present – is one of the objectives of a traveling exhibition that showcases images of Greek cities painted by Greek artists from the country’s independence in 1832 to the present. The exhibition is part of a cultural program initiated by the Greek Ministry of Public Administration and Decentralization and is based on research conducted by the Archives of Neo-Hellenic Art, a research group on Greek art run by art critic Haris Cambouridis. As befits its content, the exhibition is not just about cities but for cities to see; it will travel to eight cities, beginning, within the month, with Xanthi and then heading for Rhodes, Athens, Ioannina, Hania and Thessaloniki, with Volos and Nicosia as the final destinations. Multiple levels «Art as Guardian of the Greek Cities, Settlements and Neighborhoods in Greek painting,» which is the exhibition’s rather grandiose title, works on multiple levels. It documents both changes in Greek art and the urban environment but it also provides the contemporary viewer with a renewed sense of urban identity and rootedness. The exhibition is also an opportunity for museum-rated art to reach the Greek periphery, where cultural life is (at least in some areas) rather impoverished. It brings attention to bear on one of the most popular subject matters in Greek art, the art of the so-called Thirties Generation in particular. Spyros Vassileiou’s trademark images of Athens that show the roof-top terraces of the polykatoikies (apartment blocks) are among the better known and most tender images of Athens. It captures the back-to-the-roots nostalgia and appeal of the simple pleasures of life that are typical of the art produced by other Thirties Generation artists, all well represented in the exhibition. Cities are also the subject matter of abstract paintings. Yiannis Spyropoulos, a pioneer of modernism in this country, used cities as an artistic motif during the 1950s. He exemplifies modern art’s attempts to capture Greek modernity, the urbanization and rapid construction sweeping the country at the time. Extending right to the present, the exhibition allows for comparisons to be made between past and contemporary visions of the urban environment. It shows how art has changed and how cities have altered. It also brings to our attention something we do not often think about but that affects our daily existence, which is our relationship with our urban