CHICAGO – Wrightwood 659’s critically-acclaimed exhibition Yannis Tsarouchis: Dancing in Real Life runs through July 31. Tsarouchis (1910-1989) is widely regarded as one of the greatest Greek artists of the 20th century, yet Dancing in Real Life is his first U.S. exhibition. Featuring some 200 works that span the arc of the artist’s career, the exhibition includes his groundbreaking and sexually-charged series of male portraits and nudes, which constituted a radical recoding of conventional gender roles represented in 1930s Modernism.
The exhibition features 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.
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.
The exhibition was featured in Hyperallergic on July 21 in the article titled “Frank, Greek, and Gay: Modernist Painter Yannis Tsarouchis Is Finally Getting His Due” which focused on the painter “as a pioneer of queer art,” noting that “the Wrightwood show, which occupies three floors, is organized chronologically yet occasionally juxtaposes works from different periods, to stress Tsarouchis’ lasting commitment to portraying gay men.”
“The sensuous gouache on paper, ‘Diadoumenos and Eros’ (1970), for example, hangs alongside two pencil drawings, ‘Excursion by Car B’ and ‘Excursion by Car C’ (both 1937), in which Tsarouchis depicted a spontaneous jaunt to the coast,” Hyperallergic reported, adding that “the latter’s unabashed intimacy — naked youths lounge around a car, symbols of virility — is a good example of the artist’s consistent push for frank depictions of sexual encounters.”
“Tsarouchis fought in the Greek military during the Greek-Italian war, and perhaps unsurprisingly explored taboos surrounding gay men in uniform,” Hyperallergic reported, noting that “in his oneiric watercolor, The Study for the Beach (1962), bathers in various stages of undress linger in the shade of a large rock. The gleaming contrast of one man’s pristine white uniform against the vulnerable pink flesh of the others brings to mind Susan Sontag’s essay, ‘Fascinating Fascism,’ on sadomasochism and the complex role that fascist uniforms and aesthetics play in fetishistic fantasies.”
Wrightwood 659 is located at 659 West Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago.
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/.