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Greek Monsters Invade Manhattan

NEW YORK – When New Yorkers are ready to confront their inner and external monsters, they can begin the ordeal in a humorous vein in the atrium of the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue. They will have plenty of time to peek in on the exhibit, dive into their own subconscious minds, and consult with their priests and therapists because the “Greek Monsters” Exhibit sponsored by the Onassis Foundation (US) runs until July.

The invitation says that “The Minotaur, the Cyclops, the Stymphalian birds, Scylla and Charybdis, and more bizarre creatures that haunted heroes’ deeds in ancient Greek mythology unite in New York to tell their stories.”

Their stories need to be told, because they have been misunderstood – like Greece.

The creatures that are known to most through books, movies, and teacher’s stories come to life in vivid orange and striking black in 3-D friezes, statues, and paintings created by the eleven employees of the Beetroot Design Group that was founded in 2000 in Thessaloniki by Vangelis Liakos, Yiannis Charalambopoulos and Alexis Nikou.

Beetroot – named for the unique though not mythological vegetable – it is a “communication design office and think tank…that provides design services and solutions to a worldwide clientele,” according to its website.

They are also artists, and they want their work to make varying impressions on different people, but most of all “We want people to come here and have fun. They can play with the masks, to wear them, and there is one exhibit is a magnetic wall where you can create your own monsters,” Charalambopoulos said.

Liakos emphasized the place of monsters in people’s inner lives. “Monsters were created thousands of years ago to enable people to confront their fears,” so he and his colleagues want people to interact with them from near and far, to touch them and play with them.

The denizens of the exhibition are based on a book of illustrations inspired the poetry of Homer and Hesiod that the company published in 2011 titled, The “Misunderstood” Monsters of Greek Mythology by Anastasia Tentokali.

Liakos told TNH “each monster has its own story -for example, the Minotaur was very shy – and by this means we wanted to show that Greece is the misunderstood monster of Europe in the economic and political spheres.”

One part of the show contains images of the different metamorphoses of Proteus, the son of Poseidon. “During his life he needed to transform himself six times in order to overcome various challenges so he could survive,” Charalambopoulos said, perhaps another allusion to the Greek situation.

The genesis of the creatures occurred in the aftermath of the firm winning the prestigious Red Dot Communication Award as Agency of the year in 2011.

Liakos told The National Herald that parallel to their design and communications work they also pursue artistic endeavors, so Beetroot was thrilled when after they were chosen by Red Dot, they were asked to create a presentation to be shown in Berlin.

“That was in 2011 when Greece was being beaten up in the global media,” Liakos said, and Charalambopoulos added that they intended to make political and social statements from the start.

The idea for the exhibit emerged through discussions among all the employees of the firm and the whole team helped create them.

The artwork reveals the dual nature of the Greek Monsters, both as perpetrators and victims, which also figures in the current Greek crisis narrative, but Beetroot also wanted to reinforce the movement “against racism, generalization, and exclusion, as significant philosophical attitudes and practices in contemporary design.”

The Beetroot team seems to have made friends among the ancient creatures that they hope will be repeated with the exhibition’s guests “Monsters are some of the most interesting things all around us,” they told TNH. “Each of us can be a monster for others and the people we encounter can be monsters in our everyday lives.”

New Yorkers will agree. Charalambopoulos and Liakos thanked the Onassis Foundation for the opportunity to present their work in New York.

They also agreed that when Europeans view them, they should be able to recognize that the monsters they are pointing at in Greece have counterparts at home, not only in Southern but Northern Europe also. One guest suggested “the Europeans may be annoyed at the monsters of the Greek neuroses, but we have had to deal with psychoses from the North.”

The exhibit will delight children and make adults think. Carl Jung’s analytical psychology helps people (and nations, according to authors like Jerome Bernstein) heal and thrive by coming to terms with their shadows, their opposites, parts of themselves they don’t want the world to see – their monsters.

Numerous opposites come to mind at the Olympic Tower. The orange that stands out evokes its opposite on the color wheel, the blue of the modern Greek flag, and the black that is alternates with the orange is the aesthetic and conceptual opposite of the white that is interlaced with the Greek flags blue bands and field.

Asked if there was a connection, Charalambopoulos chuckled and responded “Could be,” though Liakos noted, that black and orange were widely used to depict monsters in ancient Greek sculptures. Another great Jungian concept, however, is that of meaningful coincidences. More information about tours for children and families is available at: guidedtoursOCC@onassisusa.org.

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