A jour­ney from chem­istry and phamaceu­ti­cals, to art and New York City

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SELANA VRONTI

The Jewish Mu­seum of Greece is in a pretty, salmon-col­ored neo­clas­si­cal build­ing with gray shut­ters on Nikis Street, which links Syn­tagma Square and Plaka in cen­tral Athens. I had passed it many times with­out en­ter­ing. I fi­nally did so to see the ex­hi­bi­tion “FORM/Less” by young artist Maria Fragoudaki. “I was in­vited by Saranna Biel-Co­hen, an Amer­i­can cu­ra­tor who works with the mu­seum. Re­cently, Jewish in­sti­tu­tions have be­gun to present nonJewish artists,” she said.

The Jewish Mu­seum, which was es­tab­lished in 1977, con­tains a rich col­lec­tion with thou­sands of items which re­flect the long his­tory of Ro­man­iote and Sephardic Jews. Some of Fragoudaki’s works were dis­played among Jewish heir­looms, in an in­ter­est­ing dia­logue, but the main body of work was on the top floor of the build­ing, in a small ex­hi­bi­tion space.

“For a month I vis­ited the mu­seum ev­ery day and stud­ied the ob­jects on dis­play. I was in­spired by the col­ors and the ma­te­ri­als, such as the fab­rics, the wood, the mar­ble,” said the 33-year-old artist who lives and works in New York. “I have many Jewish friends. Work­ing on the project I drew closer to them, I learned about their cul­ture. A new chap­ter of knowl­edge was opened to me,” she said.

Fragoudaki’s paint­ings looked more like sculp­tures. For ex­am­ple, in one, saw­dust formed a white wreath; in an­other there was string, while on an­other plas­ter took the shape of stones. It is as if the artist was fight­ing with the can­vas, ex­per­i­ment­ing with the ma­te­rial.

She had been in­flu­enced by Process Art, a move­ment of the 1960s which put more em­pha­sis on the pro­duc­tion process than on the fi­nal re­sult, the fin­ished art­work. Many of the works in this se­ries looked “tired.” They had holes, tears, “wounds,” they sug­gested catas­tro­phe.

While Fragoudaki has taken part in many group ex­hi­bi­tions in Greece and abroad, what struck me in her bi­og­ra­phy, how­ever, was that she had stud­ied chem­istry. “My in­ter­est in mat­ter and the con­stituents of col­ors drove me to­ward this sci­ence. I wanted to un­der­stand how ev­ery­thing around me worked,” she said. “I went to study in Lon­don. In the af­ter­noons I would at­tend art classes.” As time passed, the young stu­dent re­al­ized that she wanted to de­vote her­self to art.

Nev­er­the­less, af­ter her stud­ies she worked for an­other five years at phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, to raise money to be able to sup­port her­self. Then she re­turned to Greece, where she showed her port­fo­lio to the Sk­o­ufa Gallery. “The next af­ter­noon they asked to visit my stu­dio. My first solo ex­hi­bi­tion came eas­ily.”

The artist looked sweet and frag­ile, but hid­den be­hind this is great strength. “I told my­self that if I sold the works in the ex­hi­bi­tion I would go to New York im­me­di­ately.” She sold all the works in three weeks and left for the US. “When I first ar­rived I knew no one. I used Airbnb and moved from one house to the next, on a tem­po­rary visa. I don’t know if I would have the strength to do it to­day,” she con­fided.

She be­gan to at­tend art classes at NYU, at the School of Visual Arts and at Parsons. “It was the best move I ever made. I quickly got into art cir­cles. I came into con­tact with artists, cu­ra­tors, aca­demics. My work be­gan to change quickly.”

Maria Fragoudaki stud­ied chem­istry while at the same time tak­ing an ac­tive in­ter­est and classes in art.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Greece

© PressReader. All rights reserved.