Contemporary Art Informed by the Legacy of Greece and Italy

Written by: Maurice Taplinger

It is a daunting task to review an exhibition as sweeping in scope as "The Odyssey Within: An Exhibition of Fine Art From Italy and Greece," at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from December 14, 2007 through January 3, 2008, with a reception on Thursday, December 20, from 6 to 8 PM. So overwhelming is its bounty of stylistic diversity that most one can do is try to provide the reader with an overview of the various tendencies flourishing in those two Mediterranean countries both with richly documented artistic legacies dating from antiquity to the present and recommend that he or she make a point of visiting the gallery. Among some of the Greek artists, particularly, mythology and religious iconography persist as subjects that give rise to innovative contemporary interpretations, as seen in the gifted printmaker Ece Abay's earthy semi-abstract woodcuts, with their sensually exaggerated, rhythmically linear anatomical contours, distantly reminiscent of those on Etruscan vases; Antonis Choudalakis' evocative, sensitively delineated frescoes of fragmented figures on wood; and the slashingly energetic neo-expressionist crucifixions of Panos Evangelopoulos, which combine anguished subject matter with painterly exaltation.

Other Greek artists tackle problems of the technological era, as in Sophia Angelis's ironic painting of people ignoring each other while talking on cell phones; Giannis Stratis's figures, as starkly simplified as logos and lavatory symbols, hinting at our ever-increasing sense of isolation; and Alexis Vlahos's visionary evocations of the symbolic female figure, with their visually compelling combination of linear and curved elements. Various species of abstraction thrive as well, in the sumptuous nature evocations of Anna Maria Zoppis, wherein organic or geometric elements often appear as piquant accents in a primarily nonobjective context; the luminous cosmic compositions of Dr. George Koemtzopoulos with their dazzling sense of light and allusions to untrammeled natural forces; the vibrantly colorful gesture paintings of Melanie Prapopoulos, with their muscular forms and palette dominated by visceral red hues; and Lebanese immigrant Tatiana Ferahian's intriguingly intricate metaphysical mazes.

At least two Italian artists favor modes of expression that verge on the surreal, as seen in Stefano Cattai's mixed media works and doll-like figure paintings, and Alessandro Fabriani's riotously detailed watercolors of a world turned topsy-turvy.

Neoclassicism also makes its presence felt in the landscapes and figure groupings of Cesare Landini, while the nature paintings Mario Gabriele Marioli combine the vigorous brushwork of the post-impressionists with the strident colors of the Fauves. Then there are Raffaele Gerardi, whose angular approach to the human figure recalls Modigliani, even while his subject matter is considerably more symbolic and primitivistic; Aurora Mazzoldi, a contemporary romantic, known for poetic, softly focused paintings with a decidedly narrative quality; and Angela Policastro, whose powerful delineated figures are notable for their emotional resonance, which springs from their insightful exploration of human relationships; and Enzo Casale's intensely confrontational realist portrait heads in oil on paper, which demonstrate the continuing relevance of the human face as a mirror of all worldly concern; and doubly gifted Raffaele Gatta's powerful black and white photographs (in which the human figure is conspicuous for its absence, which permeates the atmosphere anyway) and bold paintings of suggestively shapely forms.

Beyond the most obvious references to mythology and religious icons as signifiers of conventions and traditions essential to the continuity of European culture, one would search in vain for overriding regional tendencies in the art of Greece and Italy. This is obviously a healthy sign, in a time when all ambitious art aspires to the global scope and universal substance that is much in evidence here.

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