Galerie Peter Kilchmann
Zahnradstrasse 21, CH-8005 Zurich
tel. +41 44 278 10 10
June 11 - August 13, 2016
Galerie Peter Kilchmann is pleased to announce its first solo exhibition with Greek artist Vlassis Caniaris (1928-2011). The
exhibition marks the artist’s first solo show in Switzerland and brings together works on paper, sculptures, assemblages
and installations from the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. In collaboration with Kalfayan Galleries, Athens - Thessaloniki,
during Art Basel, from June 15 to 19, the gallery will present a historic work by Caniaris entitled “In Praise” (1993/2016) at
the Art Unlimited section of the fair (Hall 1, booth number U34).
In his Greek homeland, Vlassis Caniaris ranks among the most widely known artists of his generation. In 1958, he
presented the first exhibition of abstract paintings to be held there, and adopted a critical position on political and social
issues in his work throughout the country’s military dictatorship. While he is known and appraised among international
artists, he has been almost forgotten by the wider art world.
On view in the first room is the installation “Urinals of History” that includes three human-scale plaster figures from 1980.
The clothed scarecrow-like bodies are made from wire mesh and clothes and represent male figures urinating against a
painted wall inscribed with red, blue and green letters reminiscent of political slogans on the walls of Athens during Nazi
occupation or later during the military dictatorship and reminiscent of Caniaris’ series of paintings “Homage to the Walls of
Athens”. The installation was first exhibited at Caniaris’ 1980 exhibition “Hélas-Hellas“ (Eng.: Alas-Greece) in Athens,
which marked a breakthrough for the artist. Also in the first room is an object representing a hybrid between a child figure
and a wastebasket entitled “Garbage Child 4”, and “Child’s room”, a large-scale assemblage interior representing an
impoverished nursery (both 1974). In these seminal works Caniaris addresses issues of contemplation and observation
and represent an acute vision of social, cultural and personal asymmetries for pathological symptoms in industrialized
societies, such as the Gastarbeiter (Eng.: migrant worker).
Caniaris described his sculptural figures as “witnesses”, and as a whole the installation produces a highly reflexive
interweaving of reciprocal observer positions and roles, situating the artist as an observer who is always part of the
observed situation, and who alter it with a radical subjectivity that includes an acceptance of his own limitations as an
artist. Aware of this limitation, Caniaris imparted this to his viewers by locating them on the same representational plane as
his subjects: as objects, observers, and participants simultaneously – occupying a radically open position the artist
inhabited in his own life and work.
The second room of the exhibition is dedicated to Caniaris’ “Anti-dictatorial” series from 1969 to 1970, in which objects
such as shoes, plastic carnations, children’s toys and barbed wire are immersed in plaster. The works were part of
Caniaris’ solo exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1970 and can be seen as a metaphor for the
state of Greek society ‘casted’ under military dictatorship and waiting to be set free. Reminiscent of the style of Arte
Povera these works have been coined by Max Imdahl and Michael Fehr as Concrete Realism and show Caniaris’ formal
developments beyond the picture frame.
While living in Rome (1956-1960), Caniaris’ practice still focused on two-dimensional images, drawing inspiration from the
works of Giorgio de Chirico and symbolic realism. His turn towards the abstract dates to his time in Paris (1960-1967 and
1969-1973), when he was also seeking to dissolve the surface of his works and opened his practice to threedimensionality
and assemblage. From his first “informal” compositions in 1956-1957 on newspapers and dripping on
canvas, Caniaris gradually changed from the frame of the canvas to the space and image of the object.
The political situation in Greece – to which he returned in 1967 to participate in the popular resistance movement against
the military leadership until he was forced to leave again in 1969 – and his experiences in Berlin with a DAAD grant (1973-
1975) heightened his interest in the aesthetics of sculpture and contributed to the growing socio-political dimension of his
works. During this time there was also a growing global crisis concerning the numbers of migrant workers in Europe. Many
of these workers from Southern Europe had been allowed to enter countries in the North to contribute in the
Wirtschaftswunder (Eng.: economic miracle) in an attempt to rebuild their economies after the Second World War.
However after the 1973 oil crisis, these same countries began to close their borders in an attempt to protect their own
citizens. A temporary immigrant himself, Caniaris was sensitive to this situation and brought theses issues together in his
artistic practice. In the early 1970’s he began to focus on matters of national identity, social inequality and immigration,
and produced during this period his most significant works. Using indigenous elements and found household objects such
as used clothing and toys as materials, Caniaris gradually initiated to create a human form; a physical proposition: the
person-object, which was not only a political or social subject but an ontological, existential figure. The figure of loneliness
or marginality expressed through aesthetic means. Caniaris has been influencing a number of artists ever since.
Vlassis Caniaris’ (b. 1928 in Athens, d. 2011 in Athens) visual language is distinctive and surprising for its period, leading to
invitations to show his work at the Venice Biennale (1964 and 1988) and Documenta 6 (1977). Relevant solo exhibitions include
the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1970), Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1972), ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts,
London (1976). Recent exhibitions include "Atopolis“, Mons, (2015, cur. Dirk Snauwaert); Gwangju Biennale (2014, cur. Jessica
Morgan); Venice Biennale (2013, cur. Massimiliano Gioni); Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2012) and Thessaloniki Biennale
(2011); as well as major solo shows at the GAK - Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst Bremen, Germany (2013) and the Benaki
Museum, Athens (2009). All works are courtesy of the Estate of the artist, Kalfayan Galleries and Galerie Peter Kilchmann.