Irina Genova

 

Early this September, I was happy to visit the exhibition of the Athenian Techni Group (Omada Tehni/Art Group) on the occasion of the Group’s centenary, on display in the halls of the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, opening on 7 June running through 29 October 2017. The show was mounted by the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, waiting for the completion of its new building. Curators: Marina Lambraki-Plaka, Director of the National Gallery and Olga Mentzafou-Polyzou, Honorary Director of the National Art Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum; architectural design by Sonia Charalambidou.

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The early Tehni was established on the initiative of Nikolaos Lytras in 1917 and existed until 1919. It was primarily modernist in orientation and had not a clearly stated manifesto. Departing from the pre-war Academism, dominated by the Munich School, they turned their attention to the new developments of Parisian the art scene. Founders of the Group, besides Lytras, were key figures in Greek modern art such as Konstantinos Maleas, Konstantinos Parthenis, Theofrastos Triantafyllidis, Michael Tombros, etc. The Group set no strict limits, putting on display works by visiting artists and its members took part in various art events.

The retrospection showcases the three exhibitions staged by Techni Group in the period of its existence 1917–19191. The first one was arranged in the offices of the Eleftheros Typos (Freedom of the Press) daily; the second, on the premises of the Anatolian Advertising Agency and the Group’s final exhibition was on display in Paris, at the La Boétie gallery.

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Along with the artworks presently on display, the research work of the team behind the exhibition included archival records, catalogues, reviews and monographs of that age, photographs and albums, a diary from the archives of Konstantinos Maleas and so on. The architectural design of the halls gives an idea of the spatial solutions to those three shows. Visitor’s eye is attracted to find concurrences in pictures from the archival photos, enlarged as fragments in the halls, with those on display in the present exhibition. Along with this, important subjects of the artistic practice of the Athenian artists are emphasised with the image of the Acropolis among them, an ever-present symbol of Antiquity in the heart of the contemporary capital. A group of landscapes by Konstantinos Maleas pinpoints the attention upon this subject. The culture of the Antiquity was of major interest to Parthenis. The visual notions, adopted and reworked from the experience of the Sezession and Symbolism, have the effect of an emblematic image of modern Greece. The pieces of scenery––the specific variable light, sparkling colours, the sunny skies and the sea, the numerous islands, the stone pines and the white-pinkish houses––are a significant part of the modern rendering and expression of the typical ‘Greek’. Konstantinos Maleas, Theofrastos Triantafyllidis, Lykourgos Kogevinas, etc., are among the compelling painters. The experience of Post-Impressionism, of Pierre Bonnard and Jean-Édouard Vuillard, of Cubism and collage along with other trends related mainly to colour came to be an important impetus for modern Greek artists.

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The Group’s first exhibition, including an impressive number of works, a total of 144, was unveiled on the eve of Christmas 1917 by the then Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos in the presence of King Alexandros I2 and other officials. The art event had a political dimension to it as part of the broader modernist agenda of the Liberal Party3 to promote new art forms. The acquired artworks exhibited at the time testify to this fact. The large photo prints give an idea of its general view and the atmosphere of the exhibitory space, brimming with furniture, flowers and carpets. Portrait busts of Venizelos and King Alexandros I are discernible. As for the genres, mostly portraits and landscapes were on display. The show welcomed thousands of visitors and was hailed by the press.

The second Group’s exhibition was mounted early in 1919, in Athens.

The curatorial project has devoted special attention to the Group’s last and final exhibition, which opened doors on 2 September 1919, in Paris during the Paris Peace Conference marking the end of WW1. The event was held under the auspices of the Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, who attended the Conference. This exhibition implemented a law passed recently by the Liberal Government, which provided for staging exhibitions abroad to promote the country.

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The group exhibition of Greek modern artists at the La Boétie gallery included 200 paintings, engravings and sculptures. Four Greek artists living in Paris at that time joined the show: Dimitris Galanis, Markos Zavitsianos, Stavros Papapanagiotou and Pavlos Rodokanakis. We were informed that Kogevinas had the greatest presence in the exhibition (45), Maleas and Parthenis participated with 30 paintings each. The French Airport in Corfu (1916) by Konstantinos Parthenis draws visitors’ attention at the present exhibition. Its aircraft taking to the skies reminds of the military cooperation between the two countries in the world war.

The present exhibition of the Group is recorded in a voluminous catalogue in Greek, providing extensive texts by the curators and a number of archival records. The project is offering a valuable discussion on art events in broader political and social contexts. Those, who, unfortunately, are not fluent in Greek, are provided with texts in English in the exhibition itself as well as on the National Gallery’s website to help them perceive and interpret the show.

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Presently, any art historical or critical practice is comparative. A comparative perspective is anticipated and inevitable in the conditions of an eventful media environment. The exhibition of the Athenian Techni Group occasioned by its centenary, professionally mounted by a team of the National Gallery, Athens allows comparisons both with the art developments and cultural policies in Bulgaria of the age and present exhibitory practices.

12 September 2017

1 Of the second Group, established in 1930 and presented in Sofia in 1936. see Генова, И. София – Атина: две разменени изложби. Изложбите на „Техни“ в София и на български художници в Атина. – Проблеми на изкуството, 2000, 1, 40–54; Мутафов, Е. Мутафов, Е. – Поколението на 30-те и групата “Техни” в гръцката култура. – Проблеми на изкуството, 2000, 1, 55–57.

2 King Alexander I of Greece was the younger son of Constantine I, who abdicated the throne. Alexander I was enthroned in June 1917.

3Eleftherios Venizelos led the Liberal Party and was elected as Prime Minister in the same 1917.

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