Chryssa, Greek (1933 - 2013)
Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali (Greek: Χρύσα Βαρδέα-Μαυρομιχάλη; December 31, 1933 – December 23, 2013) was a Greek American artist who worked in a wide variety of media.
Chryssa comes from a famous and once-powerful family from the Deep Mani.
She herself has said, "I do not come from a rich family
[but from] a family with good education (for example, one of
my sisters studied medicine) and good exposure to the creative
arts": This sister, for instance, was a friend of Greek
poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis.
An American art pioneer in light art and luminist sculpture widely known for her neon, steel, aluminum and acrylic glass installations, she has always used the mononym Chryssa professionally. She worked from the mid-1950s in New York City studios and has been working since 1992 in the studio she established in Neos Kosmos, Athens, Greece.
Chryssa began painting while she was still an adolescent, and
on the advice of a leading art critic in Greece, her family
sent her to Paris to study at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere
in 1953-54. She was barely twenty-one when she sailed to New
York. "I had an enormous curiosity about America and I
felt that it would be much easier in America to achieve a freedom
of expression rather than in European countries."
best known for her "Luminist" sculpture in brilliantly
colored neon tubing, was born in Greece and now ranks as one
of the outstanding and innovative artists in America today.
Soon after her arrival in the early 1950's, Chryssa discovered
the neo-Byzantine world of Time Square and its lights.
She also found inspiration in the newspaper for which the Square
is named. Her Early "Newspaper" paintings and
sculptures were innovative experiments using typography, newsprint
collages, metal molds, and alphabetical forms in raised relief.
The luminous mythology of Times Square, its giant glowing and
blinking signs and letters fascinated Chryssa. The impact
was overwhelming as she associated the dazzling imagery of the
Square's neon signs to the art of Byzantium. The references
she uses to indicate the breadth of her discovery are highly
significant "I saw Times Square with its light and letters,
and I realized it was as beautiful and difficult to do as Japanese
calligraphy... In Times Square the sky is like the gold of Byzantine
mosaics or icons. It comes and goes in the foreground
instead of remaining in the background." These signs
were ultimately transformed by the artist into her own mysterious
symbols and alphabetical elements expressing, as she put it,
the "Homeric wisdom" of the signs.
Chryssa's genius is expressed in a variety of mediums, ranging
from sensitive arrangements of calligraphic elements in plaster
and metal to the luminous, and equally disciplined, neon works.
Her work lifts the anthropology of our world to its greatest
has had individual and collective exhibition shows at the Museum
of Modern Art, The Guggenheim, The Whitney -New York.
Harvard University; Institute of Contemporary Art at the University
of Pennsylvania; Carnegie Institute among many others.
Chryssa's first major work was The Cycladic Books, a series of plaster reliefs which the French art critic Pierre Restany described as having produced "the purified and stylized geometric relief which is characteristic of Cycladic sculpture."
According to the American art historian and critic Barbara Rose, The Cycladic Books preceded American minimalism by seventeen years.
Arrow: Homage to Times Square is a large 8 ft by 8 ft (2.4 m) work in painted cast aluminum. In a 2005 interview in Vouliagmeni, Chryssa said of this work: "I only ever kept one work for more than 15 years in my studio, "The Arrow" – it is now in Albany, in the Rockefeller Collection."
Chryssa's first solo exhibition was mounted at The Guggenheim.
Times Square Sky is a 5 ft × 5 ft (1.5 m) × 9.5 in work in neon, aluminum and steel. It is now in the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Chryssa's work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in curator Dorothy Canning Miller's Americans 1963 exhibition. The artists who were represented in the show also included Richard Anuszkiewicz, Lee Bontecou, Robert Indiana, Richard Lindner, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg, Ad Reinhardt, James Rosenquist, and others.
The Gates to Times Square, regarded as "one of the most important American sculptures of all time" and "a thrilling homage to the living American culture of advertising and mass communications," is a 10 ft cube installation of two huge letter As through which visitors may walk into "a gleaming block of stainless steel and Plexiglas that seems to quiver in the play of pale blue neon light" which is controlled by programmed timers. First shown in Manhattan's Pace Gallery, it was given to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York in 1972.
Clytemnestra is in the Corcoran Gallery of Art collection in Washington, D.C. It is based on the anguish of Clytemnestra, upon learning that her daughter would be sacrificed by Agamemnon, as portrayed by Chryssa's friend Irene Papas in the Michael Cacoyannis production of Iphigeneia at Aulis on Broadway. This work, or another version of it, has also been installed outside the Megaron Concert Hall (compare megaron) in Athens.
The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a solo exhibition of works by Chryssa.
That's All (early 1970s), the central panel of a triptych related to The Gates of Times Square, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art between 1975 and 1979.
Chryssa's solo exhibition at the Gallerie Denise René was reviewed for TIME magazine by art critic Robert Hughes before it went on to the Galleries Denise René in Düsseldorf and Paris.
Chryssa's 70 ft (21 m) Untitled Light Sculpture, six large Ws connected by cables and programmed electronically to create changing patterns of light through 900 feet of neon tubing, is suspended in the atrium of 33 West Monroe, a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design and its former headquarters, in Chicago, Illinois.
Mott Street, named for Mott Street in Chinatown, Manhattan, is a large work in dark aluminium and red-toned neon light which is installed in the Evangelismos station of the Athens Metro.
Other works by Chryssa in composite honeycomb aluminum and neon in the 1980s and 1990s include Chinatown, Siren, Urban Traffic, and Flapping Birds.
Chryssa 60/90 retrospective exhibition in Athens in the Mihalarias Art Center. After her long absence from Greece, a major exhibition including large aluminum sculptures - cityscapes, "neon boxes" from the Gates to the Times Square, paintings, drawings etc. was held in Athens.
In 1992, after closing her SoHo studio, which art dealer Leo Castelli had described as "one of the loveliest in the world," Chryssa returned to Greece. She found a derelict cinema which had become a storeroom stacked with abandoned school desks and chairs, behind the old Fix Brewery near the city center in Neos Kosmos, Athens. Using the desks to construct enormous benches, she converted the space into a studio for working on designs and aluminum composite honeycomb sculptures. The Athens National Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded in 2000 and owns Chryssa's Cycladic Books, is in the process of converting the Fix Brewery into its permanent premises.
Chryssa presents her paintings at the Mihalarias Art Center.