NEW YORK – On October 8 Greek-Americans and Philhellenes who have been eagerly awaiting the reopening of the Onassis Cultural Center NY, even as they enjoyed the events in New York’s finest venues, will experience a unique homecoming. The Center’s new Executive Director, Amalia Kosmetatou, and its dedicated staff, along with Foundation officials led by Foundation President Dr. Anthony Papadimitriou, will welcome back their friends at the Opening Night Gala Performance and Reception that is also the inauguration of its annual Festival of Arts and Ideas, the Onassis Festival NY. During the tenure of Amb. Loucas Tsillas, its first Executive Director, the Center became such an integral part of the Greek-American and wider New York community’s cultural scene that the Onassis Foundation (USA) embarked on a renovation and expansion of its facilities in New York’s iconic Olympic Tower. The guests will find an expanded lobby connected by a stairway near an evocation of a waterfall to a lower atrium. Through the doors, they will enter a state-of-the-art exhibition space. The Center’s first presentation is a four-day festival of talks, presentations, and performances titled “Narcissus Now: The Myth Reimagined.”“Triple Echo,” a collaboration by choreographer Jonah Bokaer and composer Stavros Gasparatos is designed as a musical and kinematic introduction to new home of the Center which “explores the relevance of the classical tradition though innovative and adventurous programs with commissioned works and extraordinary participants.” Andreas Angelidakis, who brings his architectural intuition and training to exhibitions, curated Narcissus Now’s artwork, which includes his “Mirrorsite.” The first new element visitors will encounter is The Art Wall, which will exhibit specially commissioned works by contemporary artists. Angelos Plessas, who recently won the prestigious DESTE Prize 2015, created the first offering: “I AMness.” Guests will be drawn to “The repeating mandalas…[which] create vivid and hallucinatory visual effects that attract and capture the gaze.”
YOU CAN’T JUST OPEN THE DOORS
When Gasparatos was in Troy, NY last year for a project, he received an email from Kosmetatou, who invited him to see the facilities and help create the program for the reopening. Inspired by the construction, Triple Echo ties together the three spaces, reflecting the synthesis of spaces achieved by design of the firm of Perkins Eastman. Guests will be enveloped by art and music as soon as they arrive, beginning with a half-hour instrumental introduction that “will evoke the sense of the building itself waking up, but those sounds will blend with an awakening voice – that of Echo, the nymph who
tragically loved Narcissus, who only had eyes for himself – perhaps a metaphor for the many kinds of self-absorption one encounters in social-media-saturated modern Manhattan. The live music that follows for the next 1½ hours will be performed by a classical percussionist in the lobby and the Matt Evans quartet in the gallery – the recorded voice is Savina Yannato’s. “It will be a conversation between the building, the live musicians, and the dancers,” – Hristoula Harakas, Sara Procopio, and Mata Sakka – who will weave their way through all the spaces. CENTER’S DUAL SPIRIT The “NY” in The Onassis Cultural Center NY is not just an indicator of a particular locus of a global institution. The encounter with Hellenic culture of New Yorkers is mediated by their life in their the city. It is no small thing that 9/11 introduced the lens of tragedy to their experience of art. When Angelidakis was asked by TNH how one of his works reflected particular life experiences or events in the world, he cited 9/11. “I was living in New York. I learned about it through a phone call from Greece asking if we were ok.” He could see the smoke from his Harlem home. “It was a surreal, super-stressful day.” Asked how his work has changed given the world has become even more chaotic, Angelidakis told TNH, “I am also affected by what happened in Greece.”
ART AMID MINDS AND MUSIC
In the 21st century art must not merely stimulate endorphins, it must provoke thought. Angelidakis has curated the display of all works of art on view in the gallery with all of the Onassis Center’s themes in mind, as well as 21st century realities – and illusions. Today, more information does not necessarily equal more truth. His “Mirrorsite” is an ongoing investigation into information overload. It is a three-channel video – there are three projections, and “It’s about a place made out of mirrors…a virtual space,” i.e. one that is not fully or really real. “I am imagining is a place where there is so much information that suddenly there is nothing left to reflect upon. There has been a crash and there are only reflections of reflections – data with no content.” But the quiet after the crash is not a place of refuge. “The mirrors and their reflections will eventually trap Narcissus with an illusion of infinite virtual spaces from which he will never be able to escape,” he said. People, people everywhere and not a person to interest Narcissus. Gasparatos is the anti-Narcissus. He pays attention. “When you walk down the street in Manhattan, or in a forest in Greece, does music accompany everything you encounter,” TNH asked. “Yes. Completely.” He said, “Today I was having breakfast in the West Village and it came to mind how much music I hear wherever I am, so I pressed record on my i-Phone and said ‘why not make an album with the sounds of random places?’” His inspiration for the music for the event came from the Olympic Tower itself, not as an inanimate object, but as a vessel of humanity. “The first idea I had when I walked into the space was that this was a building with so much history, so many people have walked through it, and I try to capture moments and memories.”
He was born and raised in Patras, and while his father’s roots are in the very musical Kefalonia, Gasparatos is the only musician in a family of music lovers, but what he heard at home – from Bach to Manos Hadjidakis to Leonard Bernstein to the Beatles – had a powerful influence on him.
He also studied mechanical engineering, but when he moved to Athens he became involved in theater and cinema. A key element in his transformation was mentoring by composer Nikos Kypourgos.
Angelidakis’ creative life also exhibits fluidity, perhaps influenced by cultural diversity.
His father’s roots are near Iraklion and his mother is from Norway. They met in Rhodes, where, ironically, they worked for Voice of America and the U.S. Embassy, respectively.
Even when he was studying architecture, most of his friends were artists, so it was easy to move towards fine arts after school.
His favorites places in Greece include the island of Sifnos – “my cousin has a very nice traditional house in Katavati – and Peloponessos – but I like everywhere in Greece.
Gasparatos’ work has also been impacted by the Greek crisis. A lengthy and thoughtful conversation about it with TNH is summed up in a few words: “We Greeks have yet to realize that great revolutions don’t begin with those we vote for, they start with who we are, and when we recognize our mistakes.”
Meritocracy is his prescription. “When I do something of substance, I feel that I help everyone around me,” which speaks directly to the mission of the Center that presents the creations of the Greek mind through time, including the work of contemporary artists who prove that the best of Hellenism is not locked up in the world’s museums – they are also in its youth, waiting to be born.