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Antonia Papatzanaki

at the Consulate General of Greece, New York

Antonia Patpatzanaki, born in Crete, Greece, spends her time in Athens, Crete, and New York. Her sculptural work, sometimes public, sometimes not, often makes use of light, but her show at the Greek consulate included one large wall relief in the first floor and two groups of paintings and two groups of lightworks in the space downstairs. These works belong to the patterns of international abstraction, and offer no clue to the artist’s geographical origins. This would make sense--the artist studied for her master’s at Pratt Institute and has internalized the schematic forms of modernism, reworking them in ways that emphasize her excellent feeling for design. Her paintings regularly display white abstract motifs on black, but there are Plexiglas light sculptures too, in which stainless steel effects patterns, often seemingly landscape-like in general composition, that are lit from inside. In all the work, we find a commitment to abstract arrangement that links the artist to displays best characterized as occurring in nature or microscopic imagery--the  title of the show, curated by Greek-born Thalia Vrachopoulos, is “Microscopies.”


As a demonstration of contemporary visual thinking, the exhibition reveals the artist’s determination to work out compositions whose execution relays the smallest kinds of systems found in nature. But they are also writ large, in ways that call us to attention by arrangements notable for their well-spaced intervals, looking sometimes like stained glass, sometimes like soap bubbles, sometimes like lightning patterns. But the wall installation on the first floor, Pulse (2019) is different: it consists of asymmetrically arranged plastic hemispheres with LED lights inside them that turn on and off at irregular intervals. The piece reminds us that Papatzanaki has regularly worked with light for decades, but there is something related to natural luminescent phenomena in the work as well. As a result, the sculpture succeeds both as an abstraction and an example of light existing in the natural world. In this piece, the composition acts both as a series of individual components and a general scheme; one plays against the other. And the arrangement also succeeds as a time-based artwork changing its visual course over a length of time. This does not happen with the work downstairs, which consists of paintings or flat-faced light-sculptures that do not change in form.


The paintings show us something else: beautiful abstract compositions of white lines on a black background. Structural 1-1 (2017) is a series of slightly wavy horizontal lines crossing the width of the foot-wide canvas; and Structural 1-2 (2017) exists as a pattern of rough circles building an outline much like the contour elevations of a mountain on a map (again, the dimensions are a foot square). Both schemes look like natural designs, meant to indicate the often unrecognized but true motifs that occur in the external world. By basing this show on imageries that might have existed as a reality beyond the artist’s imagination, Papatzanaki reasserts the artist’s prerogative to find similarities both within and outside her realm of thought. This is interesting, for it links her thinking to actualities in the real world, in ways that emphasize their connectedness. Structural 1-3 and 1-4, both from 2017 and a foot square, look like scientific visuals of soap bubbles. The first of these two works looks like a net of oblong circles, brighter on top than on the lower half of the image, while the second painting, 1-4, is a more complicated pattern of circles connected to each other in disparate fragments, with the black background showing through at regular intervals. Together, the two pieces enact the artist’s interest in consciously arranged displays, albeit displays of an organic rather than rational nature.


The light-sculptures are particularly interesting in that they combine Papatzanaki’s long-term interest in the effects of light and the patterns she concentrates on showing in this exhibition. In Structural 1 (2018), the light-sculpture consists of what looks like an irregular patchwork of cultivated fields, with slightly curving lines indicating small rises or hills. The organic parts, fitting into each other like a puzzle, have curving black lines separating their forms. At the same time, these elements are not-so-thin white lines separated by black ones that seem to describe a larger collection of fields. It is a beautiful image, one descriptive of nature in an abstract sense. In another lightbox, called Structural 3 (2018), the overall pattern consists of squarish, rectangular, and circular parts that fit into each other in puzzle-like fashion. Here, too, the artist looks like she is attempting to merge abstract motifs and an overview of the patterns of meadows found in nature. This, then, is the cause of Papatzanaki’s strength as an artist: the joining of nonobjective art to images actually found in the world. Abstract work can often borrow from figuration, while figuration usually incorporates elements of abstraction, in good art especially. This is what Papatzanaki does.


In summary, it looks very much like the artist is playing with elements of abstraction that might (not always) be construed in a figurative sense. The key to understanding this work is Papatzanaki’s equal-handed treatment of both kinds of perception. This is not easy to do; nor is it easy to bring together static forms of two-and three-dimensional effects and incorporate these elements into efforts that are suffused with artificial light. It is not easy to work up a telling understanding of the pieces’ meaning. They are what they are, without demanding much analytical interpretation at all, Today, we always want art to mean something, usually of a socially or politically progressive nature--to the point where we lose track of its effectiveness as art. So, it is with some relief that the artist’s audience is able to consider the art as art alone, driven by scientific (microscopic) interests and by larger concerns with nature. Papatzanaki’s outlook is that of a city person, but she comes from Crete in Greece, an island with abundant rural settings. Her vision thus is a bit bigger than the implications of the show’s title, compelling our gaze toward both the small and the large.


- Jonathan Goodman, New York, December, 2019

- images courtesy of the artist

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