homepage / exhibitions / Jannis Spyropoulos | Dialogue with the Invisible


The Historical Museum of Crete is hosting, from March 2017 to March 3rd, 2018, the exhibition Dialogue with the Invisible on Jannis Spyropoulos, one of the most important Greek artists of the 20th century. The exhibition features works from the Zacharias Portalakis Collection. The exhibition follows the first Portalakis Collection exhibition at the Historical Museum of Crete, Divinity, (dis)continued (October 2015 - January 2017), which showcased representative works by pioneering artists Konstantinos Parthenis, Yannis Tsarouchis, Christos Kapralos and Theodoros Stamos, next to the permanent collection of 65 post-Byzantine portable icons (15th - early 20th c.) donated to the Society of Cretan Historical Studies by Zacharias Portalakis

Jannis Spyropoulos (1912-1990) is considered the most emblematic and internationally recognised Greek representative of Abstraction. Thirteen selected works are presented at the Historical Museum of Crete: 12 works from the Zacharias Portalakis Collection (Monday Morning, Erymanthus, Idi, Yesterday at Sounion, Alfeios, Skyros, Doric, Alcar No 1, Stasimon No 7, Diptych No 3, Strophe No 13, 1890) and the monumental Triptych A from the Jannis & Zoe Spyropoulos Foundation

Most of these works were produced in the 1960s, the peak period of the artist’s search for an abstract vocabulary in his creations. The works are characterised by gestural marks, symbolic designs, and the textural reworking of the canvas surface, which seems, in a process of intensive intervention and revision, to have been constructed in terms of colour.

As Yiannis Ch. Papaioannou explains, during this period, besides the three basic elements of his work (scoring, collage and brushwork), “the painter uses earth colours, the brightness value withdraws within them, is transformed into heat and acts as the catalyst for dramatic painterly events highlighted by the ingenious final waxing technique”.

Spyropoulos came late to aniconic art. He reached Abstraction “through successive phases dictated by inner necessity” and became established as its classical representative. The turning point came when he was awarded the UNESCO Prize at the 1960 Venice Biennale, leading to his wider international recognition.

It is these works of the 1960s which are exhibited at the Historical Museum of Crete. There the visitor will discover the dramatic moulded elements and tensions intrinsic to Spyropoulos' compositions of the period. The physicality of the material, with its sudden rifts, burning, scraping, scoring and collage, expresses “the drama of creation and destruction”.

Among the works in the exhibition, a small canvas shows, lastly, how in the mature 1980 phase a combination of disparate materials (textiles, sacks, newspapers) is now organically incorporated, structuring the surface and expressing a viewpoint that ultimately surpasses the limits of Abstraction: “This is an artistic attitude,” explains Eleni Vakalo, “with its origins in the grand tradition of European painting and with a wider range of possible applications. Spyropoulos realized it in its pure form. Following the principles of Αbstraction, he traced it within the act of painting itself. He deposited it as a constituent element of painting, and in this sense, he delivers his work to the younger generation”.


The HMC Exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual brochure and a large-format bilingual catalogue (Greek & English) with a wealth of colour photographs and texts by Yiannis Papaioannou, Kostas Ioannidis and Olga Daniylopoulou. The catalogue is available in the Museum Shop and the e-shop. A poster and postcards of paintings by Jannis Spyropoulos are also available in the Museum Shop.

The printed material is designed by Dimitris Kalokyris, a long-term HMC collaborator, while the exhibition was organized by the scientific, administrative and technical staff of the Historical Museum of Crete, coordinated by Alexis Kalokerinos and curator Aggeliki Baltatzi.

The exhibition is accompanied by tours, lectures, musical events and a specially designed educational programme available free to school groups.



A few words on Jannis Spyropoulos

Jannis Spyropoulos (born in Pylos in 1912) studied from 1933 to 1938 at the Athens School of Fine Arts, where his teachers were Spyridon Vikatos, Umberto Argyros and Epaminondas Thomopoulos. He then, with the support of a scholarship grant from the Academy of Athens, continued his studies in Paris, both at the École des Beaux-Arts (where his teacher was Charles Guérin), and at free academies. The outbreak of World War II obliged him to interrupt his studies and return to Greece. He exhibited his work for the first time in 1950, with a solo exhibition at the Parnassos Gallery in Athens. There followed a number of solo and group exhibitions in Greece and internationally. In 1960 he was honoured with the UNESCO prize at the 30th Venice Biennale and in 1961 he received the Gold Medal of the city of Ostend, Belgium. He was made Commander of the Order of the Phoenix in Athens in 1966 and awarded the Gottfried von Herder prize in Vienna in 1978. Jannis Spyropoulos died in Athens on 18 May 1990. In November of the same year, the Jannis & Zoe Spyropoulos Foundation was established, housed in the Spyropoulos family home in Ekali. Works by the artist are now on display in major Museums of Modern Art, from New York and New Zealand to Tokyo and London.


Information: +30 2810 283219, ext. 101
Admission: Free

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