How to Steal a Chair Premieres at the Museum of Modern Art

At the international premiere of How to Steal a Chair in Thessaloniki, director Konstantinos Kambouroglou talked with designer Stergios Delialis. Initially reluctant to tell his story on film, Delialis became one of the film’s fans after viewing the sensitive, colorful story of his artistic struggle.

How to Steal a Chair, a fascinating documentary from director Konstantinos Kambouroglou, could be subtitled How to Steal a Dream – from Yourself. The film debuted in New York at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to a packed house mesmerized by the hero of the film, celebrated designer and collector Stergios Delialis. Passionate, determined, angry, uncompromising as he smokes cigarette after cigarette, struggling with his inability to save his own life, or his design collection, he’s a true Greek artist. We are intrigued by this man who had a dream and lost it, a Greek tragedy.

Director Kambouroglou probed that story in his film: “I have known Stergios all my life. He is my father’s oldest friend, and one of his sons is one of my oldest friends. I wanted to tell the story of Stergios for years because I’ve known him for years. A self-taught graphic designer with very little formal schooling, he dropped out of middle school to become a school unto himself. A graphic artist, he became a pioneering figure in the field of graphic design and interior space design in Greece. He became a passionate collector of the objects of industrial design.”

As the film opens, Delialis’ wife Mariana recalls her first gift to him – a ball bearing – that he prized for its beauty. In a charming vignette, he and a friend discuss “stealing” a chair. It was not an actual theft but their valiant attempt to preserve the chair that otherwise would have been forgotten or destroyed. Delialis sought the stories behind the objects that we use in the world. All the things we employ in everyday life.

The designer, collector and educator founded the Thessaloniki Design Museum, one of the first institutions worldwide to be dedicated exclusively to design. The museum operated out of a storefront from 1993-1998 and housed Delialis’ personal collection of more than 3,000 industrial design objects. Under his direction, the museum put on scores of exhibitions as well as numerous thematic shows. It also hosted seminars, talks and screenings and developed into a respected educational institution.

In 1997, a deal with the Greek Ministry of Culture promising the Thessaloniki Design Museum a permanent home and funding went bad, leading to its eventual closure. With the collection in storage, Delialis vowed to carry on. The film follows him in his struggle, his anger, his sorrow as he doggedly but unsuccessfully seeks ways to revive his museum. Now in his 70’s, Stergios still talks about design to anyone who will listen.

Says Director Kambouroglou: “The Ministry of Culture gave him a home and permanent funding, but Stergios saw the bureaucracy and meddling in the museum and could not deal with it. Even people who are sympathetic with him know he’s responsible for his failure because he could not bend. He’s a notoriously difficult and controlling person. Perhaps that’s part of his greatness. The Greek bureaucracy never understood what they were supporting. They weren’t able to allow wiggle room for this obstinate guy. He walked away from his life’s dream because of his moral compass. That’s the tragedy for me.”

Initially when the director approached Delialis about making the documentary, the artist hesitated. Kambouroglou said: “I want to capture the story for posterity, so allow me to do it and don’t tell me how to tell it. Of course he tried. But ultimately he really liked the film and appreciated it. It was a process of catharsis for him.”

The film premiered at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the 52nd Dimitria Arts Festival with close to 1,000 in attendance. Following its New York MOMA debut, the film will have engagements in the fall in art and educational institutions across the United States.

Born and raised in Thessaloniki, the director, 45, a Manhattan resident, is married to a Greek-American and the father of two small daughters. He is an independent filmmaker and media producer with over 15 years experience with organizations such as The Documentary Group. His film To Build Strong Children, about human trafficking and education, was an official selection of the Sacramento International Film Festival in 2014 and was recently broadcast by PBS. He holds a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is founder of Gouse Films Inc. He is now developing a new documentary, an American story “that has a lot to do with the current political climate in New York.”