CHICAGO – Yannis Tsarouchis: Dancing in Real Life opens May 7 at Wrightwood 659, 659 West Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago. It is the first U.S. exhibition for Tsarouchis (1910-1989), widely considered one of the most important Greek artists of the 20th century.
On view May 7-July 31, the exhibition will feature some 200 works, including paintings and works on paper from public and private collections in Greece and internationally. Together, these span the entire arc of the artist’s career, showing how he absorbed and transformed influences including Ancient Greek and Early Christian art; Byzantine mosaics, frescoes, and icon painting; Greek vernacular traditions: costume, ornament, and even puppet theater Karaghiozis; as well as the new languages of modern art: Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism. During the junta in Greece (1967-74), Tsarouchis worked in self-exile in Paris. In 1981, he established the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation in Athens, which is to this day dedicated to the preservation and advancement of his work.
The exhibition is organized around several recurring subjects and structural devices present in Tsarouchis’ art: the exploration and staging of the Other Self in portraiture; the invention of new allegories; theater as a machine of image production; dance as an embodiment of realness; landscape as introspection; and difference and repetition. Yannis Tsarouchis: Dancing in Real Life is curated by Androniki Gripari, Chair of the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation in Athens, and Adam Szymczyk, former Artistic Director of Documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel (2013–2017). The exhibition is made possible by the Alphawood Foundation Chicago.
Szymczyk spoke with The National Herald about the exhibition, noting that “for many European artists in the second half of the 20th century, a show in the U.S. was a much looked forward to accomplishment in their career.”
“Some rock bands had this dream, too – for Sex Pistols it worked out, and for Joy Division it did not,” he continued. “Tsarouchis ‘almost’ had a show in the U.S. – he collaborated for a time being with dealer Alexander Iolas, his compatriot who started an influential gallery in New York in the 1950s and then went on to open several galleries in Europe, too. But this show never materialized.”
“Tsarouchis was bitterly disappointed and he never had an exhibition in the U.S. – though Iolas organized a show later with works he collected and kept,” Szymczyk said. “In 1958, he collaborated on ‘Medea’ staged by Alexander Minotis at the then-new Dallas Civic Opera, starring Maria Callas. This show catapulted him to fame as stage and costume designer, it was also a groundbreaking performance in Callas’ career.”
“An American dream never came true for Tsarouchis— it seemed it was high time to do a show,” Szymczyk told TNH. “Fred Eychaner came up with this initiative after he saw the work and visited the House and Museum of Yannis Tsarouchis in Athens during the time of Documenta 14, the exhibition I curated in Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany, in 2017. I thought it was a daring idea when Niki Gripari, the artist’s niece, long-time collaborator, and Chair of the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation (established 1981), after she met Fred, suggested we should co-curate the exhibition.”
“Dancing in Real Life tries to show Tsarouchis as radical artist who challenged and transgressed borders between genres – in his time as set designer and art student in Athens in the late 20s and early 30s, until his late stage projects, in which he assumed roles of director, set and costume designer and even translator of ancient drama texts (Euripides’ Trojan Women staged in an empty open-air parking lot in Athens in 1977) mixing theater and painting as two equally important forms of practice and ways of image-making, and who quietly and steadfastly opposed social and cultural conventions in his country and his era, until his death in 1989,” Szymczyk said. “He would have done the same today.”
Alphawood Foundation Executive Director Jim McDonough also spoke with TNH about the exhibition, noting that “Yannis Tsarouchis’ life and work both reflect a deep passion for freedom and authenticity. This emotional connection was first encountered by Alphawood Foundation founder Fred Eychaner more than 20 years ago as a result of his interest in and study of ancient Greek sculpture and figurative art.”
The spark for the current exhibition was struck in 2017 when Eychaner first met Niki Gripari at the house of Tsarouchis in Athens,” he continued. “Many more meetings and visits to Greece and Chicago followed, during which they developed a plan to mount the first major retrospective of Tsarouchis’ work in North America at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago.”
“The artist’s devotion to freedom is honored by the exhibition Yannis Tsarouchis: Dancing in Real Life opening in 2021– the 200th anniversary of Greek Independence, while formal planning started in 2017, the 50th anniversary of the military coup in Greece,” McDonough said.
“Liberty and truth, both for nations and individuals, are key motivations for Eychaner and his Alphawood Foundation. The Foundation supports many causes that advance the rights of the marginalized, and LGBTQ people in particular. The work of Yannis Tsarouchis reveals his deep commitment to Greek freedom and sovereignty and his officially-despised gay aesthetic. Bringing this powerful talent to an audience not yet familiar with him is central to the work and purpose of Alphawood and Eychaner,” McDonough concluded.
Born in 1910 in the Greek port city of Piraeus and educated at the School of Fine Arts in Athens, Tsarouchis began painting at an early age and earned his living as a set and costume designer for the theater. In 1935, Tsarouchis went to Paris for the first time, where he encountered the work of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, and other artists of the avant-garde. In 1938, at the age of 28, he had his first solo exhibition in Athens. After serving in the Greek army on the Albanian front in the Second World War, he returned to painting and working in the theater, gaining an international reputation. During Greece’s military dictatorship (1967-74), Tsarouchis went into exile in Paris to then return to Athens, where he lived until his death in 1989.
Wrightwood 659 Hours of Operation: Fridays, 12–7:30 PM, and Saturdays, 10 AM–5:30 PM.
More information about the exhibition is available online: https://wrightwood659.org/.