Home Magazine Textual Forms by Chryssa

RoGallery is pleased to announce our participation in “Chryssa and New York Exhibition” by The Dia Foundation, on view now through July 23rd at their NYC Chelsea location. This show represents the artist’s first public retrospective since the 1980’s.

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Chryssa, born Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali in Athens, Greece in 1933, grew up amidst WWII and a political upheaval that continues to rock the foundations of the country to this day. This cultural upbringing would inspire her to first focus her life on social justice work, which she mainly conducted throughout Greece and the Dodecanese islands. Her work as a young woman with the Greek Ministry of Social Welfare on the island of Zante gave her detailed insight into the dichotomy of hope against a system that cannot help people. There she saw a once-prosperous culture decimated by nature and unable to get the true aid it needed to flourish once more. It was shortly after this work that she left social work altogether, too frustrated with her inability to effect change.

This early work spurned her back towards art – a small love that she had fostered as a teenager – and colored the tone she would take on throughout the rest of her career. She forever remained fascinated with the juxtaposition of the good against the ugly: how hope shone against destruction, the sometimes futile energy of youth against the ravages of war, and how beauty could be divined from glaring objects hyper-capitalism.

She started with the Cycladic Books, the Tablets and Letters, and the Newspaper Period from 1953 - 1962. These simple plaster-and-paper explorations of symmetry and repetition mark her stark entry into life in New York City. It was during these early forays into the simplicity of typography that she became more fascinated with the form, utility, and universality of letters. Not only could they shape language into the mind of the reader, but they also carried with them unique signifiers that could be warped and read anew on their own.


Chryssa. Chinatown Portfolio 2. Image 9. Courtesy of RoGallery

USA, First Preparatory Work For a Neon Box, is the first completed neon work by Chryssa, finished in 1962. Originating a structural design that would become a pattern in her later work, the piece features a pedestal on which a jumble of glass tubes are shaped to resemble letters, filled with a noble gas, and placed under a black glass box. In this instance, the letters spell out “USA” and the gas that is held within the tubes is neon, which glows a deep orange-red when an electric current is passed through it. USA is part of an ongoing series of studies and works done in this style, which she called simply the “neon boxes”.

She believed that communication was tied to the energy of a thing, that with sunlight or electricity flowing through a piece, so too would the message of the symbols within flow back out to the viewer. Most of her messages were focussed on the spectacle of America and how it was particularly condensed down and purified in places like Times Square. She once said, “Believe me when I say that there is wisdom, indeed, in the flashing lights of Times Square. The vulgarity of America as seen in the lights of Times Square is poetic, extremely poetic. A foreigner can observe this, describe this. Americans can feel it. Times Square I knew had this great wisdom…even if the sign-makers did not realize that.”

USA was Chryssa’s first venture in not only exploring the spectacle of Times Square, but replicating it as well. Whereas with previous works the artist had salvaged and repurposed metal signage from the area into her practice, USA became the first instance where Chryssa wholly fabricated a neon piece to satirize and perhaps even rival the neons that filled up that area in the 1960s. Chryssa saw these works as living things. The neon boxes, with their exposed tubing and visible junctions, are almost like brains; they breath, click, and vibrate under the watch of the viewer. The dark and light, the state of on and off, humming and waiting, represent the artist’s presence within the cultural tapestry in which she found herself. As an immigrant, both Greek and American, she used works like USA to knit herself into the legacy of American culture, refracting herself through American symbols like currency and advertising.

Cover Image: Chryssa. Untitled (Chinatown Yellow), 1978. Courtesy of RoGallery

Written by: Kooness

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