Graphite on paper
16 1/4 x 15 3/4 inches
Chryssa (Greek-American 1933-2013) worked in a wide variety of media. A pioneer in light art and luminist sculpture, she was widely known for her neon, steel, aluminum and acrylic glass installations. She used the single name Chryssa professionally, working from the mid-1950s in New York City studios, and after 1992 in a studio she established in Athens, Greece.
Chryssa was born in Athens into the famous Mavromichalis family from the Deep Mani. Her family, while not rich, was educated and cultured; one of her sisters, who studied medicine, was a friend of the poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis. She began painting during her teenage years but also studied to be a social worker. In 1953, on the advice of “a leading art critic in Greece,” her family sent her to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière where André Breton, Edgard Varèse, and Max Ernst were among her associates and Alberto Giacometti was a visiting professor. In 1954, at age twenty-one, Chryssa sailed for the United States, arrived in New York, and went to San Francisco, California to study at the California School of Fine Arts. Returning to New York in 1955, she became a United States citizen and established a studio in the city.
First major work: 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.”
First solo exhibition at The Guggenheim.
Times Square Sky is a 5 ft × 5 ft (1.5 m) × 9.5 in work in neon, aluminum and steel, now in the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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, acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.
Solo exhibition at the Gallerie Denise Renéwas reviewed for TIME magazine by art critic Robert Hughes before it went on to the Galleries Denise René in Düsseldorf and Paris.
70 ft (21 m) Untitled Light Sculpture, six large “W”s connected by cables and programmed electronically to create changing patterns of light through 900 feet of neon tubing, suspended in the atrium of 33 West Monroe, a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design and its former headquarters, in Chicago, Illino
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 in composite honeycomb aluminum and neon in the 1980s and 1990s include Chinatown, Siren, Urban Traffic, and Flapping Birds.
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.
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 that 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.
Mihalarias Art Center.
A partial listing of monographs on Chryssa’s work:
•1968: Diane Waldman. Chryssa: Selected Works 1955–1967. New York: Pace Gallery (48 pp.) ISBN 0-938608-21-5.
•1974: Sam Hunter. Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (76 pp.) ISBN 0-500-22018-2.
•1977: Pierre Restany. Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (274 pp.) ISBN 0-8109-0366-0.
•1983: Douglas Schultz. Chryssa: Urban Icons. Buffalo: Albright-Knox (170 pp.) ISBN 0-914782-47-9.
•1990: Douglas Schultz. Chryssa: Cityscapes. London: Thames & Hudson (162 pp.) ISBN 0-500-09209-5.
•1961: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
•1965: Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
•1968: Harvard University
•1972: Whitney Museum of American Art
•1979: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
•1963: Museum of Modern Art
•1977: Documenta ’77 in Kassel
•1991: Princeton University Art Museum
•1997: Leo Castelli Gallery
•2000: European Cultural Center of Delphi
•2003: European Cultural Center of Delphi
•2005: European Cultural Center of Delphi
•2007: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
•Albright-Knox Art Gallery
•Boca Raton Museum of Art
•Corcoran Gallery of Art
•Empire State Plaza
•Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
•Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki
•Museum of Modern Art
•National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens
•Walker Art Center
•Whitney Museum of American Art