‘YANNIS GAITIS: The essence of anonymity’ is the title of the retrospective exhibition which pays homage to this much-loved artist’s work, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth. This exhibition at the B&M Theocharakis Foundation, realized in collaboration with Gaitis’s daughter Loretta Gaiti, was inaugurated by Lina Mendoni (Minister of Culture and Sports), on February 8, and runs till May 14. The exhibition includes representative and important works by Yannis Gaitis, covering the course of his artistic journey, from 1944, with his famous ‘Self-Portrait’, (oil on canvas, 69 x 56.5 cm), to the end of his creative activity. Also exhibited, are works by his wife Gabriella Simossi, whose dialogue with surrealism, contrasts with Gaitis’s dialogue with pop art.
The works of Gaitis present his famous stylized figures of men in suits (often pinstriped), and in most cases, what appear to be bowler hats. Bowler hats are a symbol of the middle class and upward mobility, that were worn especially by bankers and civil servants. The men in Gaitis’s paintings seem to symbolise conformity and order. They are the obedient masses of the middle class who do what they are told. Gaitis places them in various different predicaments and scenes in his paintings, sometimes emphasising their ‘sameness’ (such as when he puts them in a sardine tin), and at other times challenging them to do something different, by changing their circumstances altogether, eg. replacing the figures of the famous Siren vase (attributed to the Siren Painter, 480-70 BC, British Museum collection), with his own suited men.
Included in this exhibition are many of his top works: ‘Sirens-Odysseus’ (oil on canvas, 150 x 195.5 cm., Collection of the National Gallery), ‘Oh! Gods’ or ‘The Companions’ (oil on canvas, 195 x 150 cm, Collection of the European Cultural Center of Delphi), ‘Delos’,( oil on canvas, 195 x 150 cm, Collection of the Antonios E. Komnenos Foundation), ‘Parade’ (mixed media, 150 x 150 cm ., Piraeus Bank Collection), ‘In the Court of Miracles’ (oil on canvas, 130 x 97 cm, Alpha Bank Art Collection), ‘Motorcyclist’ (c. 1967, oil on canvas, 132 x 99 cm, National Bank Collection), ‘Little People on Wheels’ (wooden construction and mixed media, 227 x 74 x 72 cm., Collection of the Museum of Modern Greek Art of the Municipality of Rhodes), ‘Exhibition and street spectators’ (oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm., Collection of the Vorres Museum).
The exhibition begins with the painter’s self-portraits, the portraits of his family and his wife, the sculptor Gabriella Simossi, with whom he worked in Paris, and her works in plaster, polyester and brass are exhibited together with her enigmatic collages.
Simossi’s silent sculptural world reflects her sensuality for love and life. Student of Michalis Tombrou at the Athens School of Fine Art and successively of the fiercely demanding Ossip Zadkine, soul of the Académie Grande Chaumière, she followed her own metaphysical wanderings. In 1972, she was awarded the Morgan’s Paint prize, cementing her dream world, which is undeniably on an opposing trajectory with Gaitis’s work.
The curator of the exhibition, Takis Mavrotas, points out in the catalogue of the exhibition: “Gaitis was a new and lively spirit in his time. After the tragic civil war and the enormous socio-economic difficulties faced by Greece, he decided to settle in Paris in 1954, at the age of 31. By his side, the muse of his creative breath, stood the introverted and dynamic sculptor Gabriella Simossi, with whom he married that same year.
The anthropo-geography of Gaitis’s daily life, with hundreds of “Little People”, who sometimes appear on the surface of a can and sometimes come out of it, reflect his personal style. You get the feeling that he wishes to have his own dialogue with pop art. Andy Warhol is American and this is immediately apparent from the Campbell’s cans and portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Coca Cola bottles to the well-known dollar. Yannis Gaitis is Greek, baptized in the Aegean and, with his own directness, gives his answers to the great questions of our time.
His little people travel to the distant past, to our ancient past, as if asking to identify their ontological presence with history or to feel its necessity, building, with their bodies, his own Acropolis.
A deep humanist, sometimes with sarcasm and sometimes with humor, he approached the model of man who seeks complacency, for a life without great responsibilities and sacrifices, without outbursts and strong passions. Thus, his little man is not lost in the forest of life and is like the tree that stands steadfastly in its place, uniform, untroubled, obedient. Gaitis drew his inspiration from everyday life and rendered it with his own expressive idiom. His instinct, from the beginning of his artistic career, led him to his personal ideal, consistently, since one thought consistently follows the other, to complete his vision.
A vision, which makes possible the interpretation of its content, since it attempts to understand something of the complexity of reality, with the fundamental, global problems”.
The works in the exhibition come from the National Gallery, the Alpha Bank Art Collection, the Museum of Modern Greek Art of the Municipality of Rhodes, the Vorres Museum, the European Cultural Center of Delphi, the Antonios E. Komnenos Foundation, the Bank of Piraeus, the National Bank and by the collectors Mr. Irini Panagopoulou, Mr. Filippo Tsagridis, Mr. Spilio Manias, Ms. Anna Rokophyllou, Ms. Mary Gaiti-Vorre, Mr. Francis Gaiti, Ms. Elektra Vassiliou, Ms. Eleni Papakonstantinou as well as those who wish to maintain their anonymity.
The exhibition is accompanied by a multi-page catalogue of the same title, with all the exhibited works.
Curator of the exhibition: Takis Mavrotas
Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 10:00-18:00, Thursday 10:00-20:00 (till May 14). The B&M Theocharakis Foundation is on the corner of 9 Vas. Sophias Ave. & 1 Merlin St., 10671 Athens. Nearest metro stop: Syntagma. Tel 210-361-1206, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.thf.gr. Tickets at 8 & 5 euros.