Pantelis Arapinis of AD Gallery set out to connect the dots between older and younger generations of Greek artists in the group show “What Does New and Interesting Mean?” Arapinis’s title alludes to the historic 1996 exhibition at the Athens School of Fine Arts of works from the Dakis Joannou Collection, called “Everything That’s Interesting Is New.” In the exhibition at AD, the works—high quality though by no means seminal in all cases—were installed on two floors, with juxtapositions of recent and older works spanning 1950 to the present.
The photographer known as Nelly’s (1899-1998), more widely recognized for fashion magazine spreads than gallery exhibitions, was represented by works from the series “New York Easter Parade” (1953), presented with texts by various poet collaborators in a grid as book page mock-ups. The crisp style of Nelly’s contrasted with the weathered materials of a 1965 brown paper collage by Jannis Kounellis. Dialogues about the expanded use of photography developed between various works, such as a group of Lucas Samaras Polaroids from 1971, and a self-portrait on photosensitive canvas (1986) by the now revered—if only in Greece—Nikos Kessanlis (1930-2004). Vlassis Caniaris, another avant-gardist who came of age in the ’60s, had two plaster sculptures displayed against the wall. In Face to Face (1969), a torso with outstretched arms emerges from a sheet of plaster, as if enacting a literal translation from painting to sculpture. Legendarily irreverent in art and life, Alexis Akrithakis (1930-1994) was represented by a wall-hung assemblage from 1982 composed of nails, wood, paint and plastic flowers; it resembles a mantelpiece topped by a tilted picture frame on a gouged black wall.
Works by artists currently in mid-career were shown alongside those of this older generation. Savvas Christodoulides’s Half Moon (2005) consists of a kitschy carved wood eagle grasping white lace in its beak and perched on a cardboard shipping box marked FRAGILE. Also on view were Nikos Markou’s large, digitally composed, untitled photograph (2007) of a cityscape at night, and Christos Charissis’s eerie painting (2008) combining areas of abstraction with a photorealistic Snow White dwarf and a toy dinosaur skull. Kostis Velonis, a sculptor who recently participated in the Lyon and Brussels biennials, makes monuments of detritus. Rappel à l’Ordre (2008) and I Shall Preserve My Only Love (2008) return to the Constructivism of Tatlin, albeit with the materials of Richard Long. Born in Athens in 1979 and currently based in New York, Georgia Sagri is a performance artist who here contributed a mixed-medium drawing and a color photograph.
Arapinis sought to demonstrate that postwar and contemporary Greek art reflect the country’s particular political and social transformations. In this, he succeeded to a degree, though the show was not strong enough to convince the unconverted. As there are very few books, monographs or exhibition catalogues on the subject and the process of building a permanent contemporary art museum has been much delayed, the task of trying to tackle the construction of an art-historical narrative seems to have fallen to a commercial gallery.
Above: Left to right, works by Nelly’s, Kostis Velonis, Vlassis Caniaris, Chryssa Romanos, Christos Charissis and Alexis Akrithakis; in “What Does New and Interesting Mean?,” 2008, at AD Gallery.