AS THE BENAKI Museum Pireos St Annexe opens its first full retrospective of the works of inventive and multifaceted artist Cosmas Xenakis (1925-1984) on March 19th 2015, his daughter Fotini writes about his life, bright inner world and multi-dimensional creations. Xenakis was one of Greece’s greatest innovators in the post WWII period art scene, as he daringly experimented with materials, form, and even the concept of what an artwork should be. Also unlike his peers and ahead of his time, he combined various art forms to create a performance of what we could today call mixed media. Xenakis was a passionate intellectual who also loved traditional Greek art and collected objects, agricultural tools and ceramics that represented the various strata of his country’s cultural and anthropological essence. The works of Cosmas Xenakis could be said to be broadly based on a dialogue of opposites, on abstract concepts such as open and closed form, movement and attitude, light and darkness and contrasting textures.
BY Fotini Xenakis
Cosmas Xenakis – my father – was a multi-talented artist: a painter, sculptor, architect and urban planner. He created happenings that he called Polytechna, in which he combined music, dance, film, speech and visual art. He also collected hand-crafted instruments, tools and ceramics.
He was an inclusive artist: his art addressed the general public, as well as more specialised audiences; no one was left out. This doesn’t mean that his art is simple, but that it is art that engages the viewer, regardless of who they might be. His colours are bold, the lines are sharp, the contrast is strong. His paintings are captivating; they make you want to look at them and take in the colour or the theme or, often, to decipher their meaning.
My father studied, lived and worked in several countries, and his work as an artist was heavily influenced by his experiences and by what was happening on the Greek and international art scene.
He worked in our house, that is where his studio always was. He was very protective of his time in front of the canvas, his papers or whichever material he was working with.
My father would stay in his studio for hours, until he was satisfied with the day’s work – but he also always asked for my mother’s opinion, and often liked us being around him as he worked, while listening to his favourite baroque music.
He was a perfectionist, sometimes to the point of obsession: driven by his need to fully explore each theme he was engaged with, he would spend long periods of time producing numerous sketches, paintings and sculptures with similar subject matter.
My father died suddenly in 1984, when he was 59 years old, while a show of his latest paintings was still on. Although there have been several exhibitions, publications and talks since then, his work has been largely forgotten.
We hope that this retrospective exhibition at the Benaki Museum will show him as he was: a revolutionary, a pioneer, and a multifaceted and innovative artist whose artwork speaks to both the mind and the heart.
The exhibition will include paintings and sculptures, photographs of his large public sculptures and multimedia material from the Polytechna, as well as parts of his private collections.
A book on Cosmas Xenakis, containing biographical information, essays on his work as an artist, and colour photographs of hundreds of representative pieces is being published by the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation on the occasion of the Benaki Museum exhibition.