National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens

Nikos Kessanlis

1961

The work is displayed as part of the permanent exhibition

Painting

Mixed media on canvas
173.5 x 238 cm
Purchased in 2001
Inv. No.114/01

Nikos Kessanlis was one of the pioneers in the renewal of the visual vocabulary of Greek post-war art by adopting a radical artistic approach which brought forth the renegotiation of the relationship between art and the real. His artistic practice —constantly moving away from the conventions of academic representational painting— was shaped within the European art scene of the 1960s and 1970s, initially in Rome, and then in Paris. As early as the 1950s, abstraction becomes central in Kessanlis’ effort towards the emancipation of his plastic language. In Walls —created during the period 1960–1961— the painting’s surface emerges as the major field for the realization of the artist’s bodily interventions and spontaneous gestures. The praxis of painting itself —seen as a constellation of haphazard bodily gestures— constitutes the defining feature in Kessanlis’ work of the time. The pasting and scraping of overlapping layers of materials, as well as the use of a all kinds of graphismes and engravings are all instantiations of the artistic subject’s bodily expression. After settling in Paris in the early 1960s, Nikos Kessanlis shifts decisively from the surface of the canvas to extra-artistic fields of expression by creating a series of works under the general title Gestures (1960–1962). Engaging in a dialogue with the morphological and conceptual quests endeavoured by the New Realists —a group of artists formed around art critic Pierre Restany— Nikos Kessanlis extracts and reuses traces and fragments of the contemporary urban and industrial environment. From the Nouvelles aventures de l’objet (New adventures of the object), presented in Galerie J, Paris, in 1961, through the Anti-peinture (Anti-painting) exhibition of the year 1962, to the Three propositions for a new Greek Sculpture, curated by Pierre Restany and hosted in La Fenice Theatre, Venice, in 1964, Kessanlis gradually moves away from the sculptural object towards the gesture and the bodily intervention. Old industrial objects, debris, and materials from the artist’s studio are subject to a corrosive process of aggressive interventions. In the work of Nikos Kessanlis —as in the work of the New Realists—the appropriation of the objective gesture and the exploration of the function of the ready-made in the context of contemporary consumer society is actualized through the perspective of a “poetic recycling of the real”, as eloquently put by Pierre Restany.
Tina Pandi, text from the permanent exhibition guide ENTER EMST : Collection & History, A short guide, 2020

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