Beyond Boundaries. Art in Europe since 1945.

The exhibition in the MMCA presents the European artistic reality through the presence of Greek artists who were dispersed throughout Europe and the relationships they developed with artists from other European countries or social groups who had also been expatriated, exiled, immigrants or were simply travellers along the European cultural horizon. Through emblematic works and unpublished documents are brought forth the complex European relationships that a series of people have developed from 1945 until today. People who in order to support the ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights, moved from one place to another both geographically and mentally, ideologically and artistically.

The 20th century was the brightest yet also the darkest century of history. After the 2nd World War, the artists and artistic movements throughout Europe were forced to confront a world in ruins and a frayed dynamic of social dialogue. They were called to participate in an era that vehemently interrogated the role and identity of the work and the artist.

Greece before the war had dramatically experienced the contradiction between modernism and tradition through the domination of a nationalistic and introverted interpretation of modernism. After the war, the artists, in an attempt to link their vision with that of the contemporary European reality, one which was desperately seeking a liberation from the traumas of fascism and every kind of introversion in all spectrums of public life, were forced to a great extent to expatriate and thusly participated in the international developments.

The pathway to the European Union and development during the 1960s, the Berlin Wall and the resultant political polarization stemming from the Cold War, the dictatorship in Greece, the Prague Spring and May ’68 were emblematic of this period and led to an endless series of crises, transformations and leaps that characterize post-war European society. From the mid 1970s and onwards these events brought about, along with the generally peaceful end of the fascistic regimes in Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal), the prospect of the systematic questioning and organized dissolution of the Communistic regimes of the Eastern Bloc. The European Union, and the resulting liberalization of borders between the member-states, allowed, along with free trade, the free movement of people and ideas. The dream of a United Europe which would continue to break down the political, social, cultural and economic boundaries was one that shined in the eyes of a large part of the peoples of the world, until the current international economic situation brought us face to face with fiscal policies that today seem to be seeking a great reversal of the economic and cultural victories of the post-war period.

The logic and the canvas of the exhibition present and organize a rich source material which is based on a systematic selection of historical works, but are not confined to the topic “art and politics”. The exhibition attempts to introduce the spectator to the multitude of mentalities and personalities that are woven together in the dream which aims towards freedom and emancipation, both in everyday life and social psychology, towards the myths and the demystification of the European cultural reality. The elements of the European reality through art and art works confront both the dream for a better world and the reality of individuals and different personalities, and participate in the constant translocation of the geopolitical, cultural, artistic, linguistic and ideological boundaries.

As Michel de Certeau wrote: “Finally, what is a “valued work” in history? It is a work recognized as such by peers, a work that can be situated within an operative set, a work that represents some progress in respect to the current status of historical “objects” and methods, and one that, bound to the milieu in which it has been elaborated, in turn makes new research possible.. […]The historical book or article is together a result and a symptom of the group which functions as a laboratory. Akin to a car produced by a factory, the historical study is bound to the complex of a specific and collective fabrication more than it is the effect merely of a personal philosophy or the resurgence of a past “reality”. It is the product of a place.”

This exhibition at the MMCA focuses exactly on the works that mark such “places”. Guided by these places it delineates the great European “tour” of the Greek artists, their wandering through the countries of post-war Europe and the relationships they developed with art outside of their native borders and evidently with a dream of an art and a humanity beyond borders.

In 1963 Pierre Restany wrote about Vlasis Caniaris: “…nowadays it is just as difficult to be Greek as it is to be Irish. It has not been stressed once and for all that the eras of subjugation, Turkish or British, made these venerable countries with distinctive aromas (which we however insist on finding soft), forget themselves, after first forcing them to swallow all of their shame and accept this bastardization. The Absurd had been established there long before miserable independence had been achieved. From Camus to Beckett, it is noteworthy that the writers of the Absurd are primarily those who had since childhood experienced a contradicting paradox in their country, both political and cultural.”

Greek artists, both the generation of the ‘70s and the ones that followed, have a clear comprehension of the contradicting paradox that Restany mentions. However, since the opening of borders in Europe they have been able come into contact with European artists who in turn often come to Greece and actively participate in the country’s cultural life, no longer as tourists but as true colleagues who collaborate with galleries and with the institutions that were created during that period, such as the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded in 1979 and gathered and exhibited a great number of older and younger artists who constitute this rich European diaspora.

The exhibits and the artists of the exhibition.

The exhibition starts with the milestone of the flight of 150 progressive Greek artists and intellectuals aboard the transport ship “Mataroa” (1945) to Paris under the patronage of the French Republic (similar scholarships were given to citizens of places such as Yugoslavia and Romania) as well as the donation of important works from French artists (Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Picabia, Masson, Pignon, Laurens etc. and also the Greeks Galanis and Prasinos who were naturalized French) during the period 1944-1949 as an homage to the Greek Resistance, which covers six decades of Greek artists moving geographically and culturally across Europe in direct dialogue with their counterparts from other European states, mapping out paths and routes that signpost the development of the European reality.

From the claim for recognition of radical modernism, either of Henri Laurensor Henry Moore, with artists such as Costa Coulentianos,Memos Makris orAchilleas Apergis, we pass to surrealism and the art of disagreement which frustrates every attempt at the political manipulation of free expression and incorporates Greek artists into the horizon of a cultural universality (on the one hand Nikos Engonopoulos and Andreas Embirikos with André Breton and on the other hand Giannis Gaitis with Tristan Tzara, Takis with Marchel Duchamp and Iris Clert, Pavlos and Alexis Akrithakis next to Alexander Iolas with Victor Brauner, Roberto Matta, Max Ernst andMan Ray) while at the same time the collector Georgios Kostakis connected with the artists of the Russian avant-garde and assembled in one collection an organized expression of Russian art from the first half of the 20th century. The adventure of abstract art, both the nonfigurative and the geometric, leaves its mark on the decade of the 1950s and up until the mid-1960s with the art critic Tony Spiteris initially in Venice and then in Paris and the founding of AICA Internationale and with the great teachers of European art such asLucio Fontana, Joseph Albers, Jean Fautrier, Hans Hartung, CarlaAccardi, Bramvam Velde, Asger Jorn and Eduardo Saura.Alexandros Xydis in Athens was to play an important role as a continuous link between the generation of the ’30s and the younger emerging talents and with the constant claim for a Greek identity which he recognized all the more intensely in the more radical young artists of the ‘70s generation. The pioneers of the 1960s such as Nikos Kessanlis, Vlassis Caniaris, and Danil first came together in Rome and then in Paris around Pierre Restany, beside Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Jean-Pierre Raynaud and Martial Raysse. At the same time Arte Povera with Jannis Kounellis, Pino Pascali, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Alighiero Boetti and Pier Paolo Calzolari in Italy dynamically took hold of the reins of the more and more radical international dimension of the European historical “difference”. Christos Ioakeimidis in Berlin in the 1960s and then also in London along with Norman Rosenthal organized important exhibitions whose traces can be found in the chronicles of Europe and mark both the international and Greek reality. At the same time, legendary places such as the “Estiatorion” of Fofi Akrithaki in Berlin became beacons for a greater part of the “translocated” and the scholars of the German DAAD along with the haunts of the self-exiled Austrians in Berlin. The presence of important Greek artists is significant, those such as Constantin Xenakis, Theodoros, Dimitris Alithinos, Stathis Logothetis, Costas Tsoclis, Costa Karahalios, Dimitris Perdikidis,Michael Michaeledes, Leda Papaconstantinou, who moved from Rome to Berlin, from Vienna to Paris, from Spain to London. Artists from many nationalities who influenced the European developments in art on a multi-dimensional level were also present in Greece where they exhibited, were in contact with Greek artists and actively participated in artistic life with their work, names such asEugène Leroy, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Richard Long, Gilbert and George, Per Kirkeby, Dieter Roth, Richard Hamilton, Marina Abramović,Pedro Cabrita Reis, Franz West, Michel François, Juan Muñoz, Tacita Dean, Reinhard Mucha, Isa Genzken, Martin Kippenberger, Thomas Schuette, Annette Messager, Christian Boltanski, Helmut Middendorf, Miroslaw Balka, Ulf Rollof andMichel Majerus.

 Artists from the member-states of the Council of Europe under whose remit this exhibition is realized, as well as with the support of European programmes, found themselves together with the Greek artists dispersed in this constantly shifting horizon which we call “Europe” and which, no matter how much it changes and transforms administratively, politically, militarily, or ideologically through each official realignment of the states, continues to bear within and beyond its conventional boundaries, the dream of a prosperity for humanity, of the consolidation of freedom, equality and brotherhood, the non-negotiable institution of the protection of human rights and the promise of a humane expression of culture which is based on peace and education. This Europe constitutes the sum of the pathways that the artists and spiritual people have followed since 1945 onwards to cross over all kinds of dividing lines of hatred, violence or intolerance, and Greece, through its artistic and cultural resources participated with a particularly vigorous presence in these deviations that convert pathways into adventures.

The exhibition was organised in the frame of the 30th Exhibition of the Council of Europe:

The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe since 1945

Duration: 08/02/2014 – 01/06/2014 | Venue: Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art

Curators: Denys Zacharopoulos, Alexios Papazacharias, Maro Psyrra