19332013 | Athens, Greece

Greek-American sculptor.

Chryssa gave up working as a social worker very early on to devote herself to art. After studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris in 1953-1954 (where she met André Breton, Edgar Varèse, and Max Ernst) and at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1954-1955, she settled in New York, where she lived and worked until 1992, before returning to Greece. She became a pioneering artist on the New York art scene, alongside Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, within the “new realist” movement that they had initiated (Eleftherotypía, 7-2-2011); going against the trend of formalist perspective as theorised by American critic Clement Greenberg, the new realists made use of new types of non-artistic materials and sought to distance themselves from an art whose symbolism was meant to express the artist’s emotions. As in J. Johns’ work, numbers, flags and targets, as well as the choice of a pre-existing neutral motif, like letters that impose their format, allowed Chryssa to evade the question of content, to which the abstract expressionists had been so attached.

One of her first major works was Cycladic Books (1957-1962), a plaster sculpture with a pared-down shape reminiscent of Cycladic statuettes, which heralded the preoccupations of minimalist artists, the giant luminous signs at Times Square, in that they combine both letters and neon, which Chryssa introduced in her work in 1963, and which would go on to become her “material” of choice; she and Dan Flavin were the first to use it for artistic purposes and to give it such prominence. Times Square, which for the artist lies at the intersection of an array of personal associations and of the themes of modern American life and the mass media, would also become a recurring subject, from Arrow: Homage to Times Square (1958) to The Gates to Times Square (1966), the latter a cubic installation inside of which the visitor may enter. These luminous installations also remind her of Byzantine art. “Instead of the golden backgrounds of Byzantine icons, there were the outlines of buildings standing out on a backdrop of blue sky” (as quoted in the daily newspaper Eleftherotypía). In this sense, Chryssa manages to combine the most innovative formal elements of her time with her personal mythology, placing her production among some of the most important works of the anti-formalist movement in the 1960s, while also asserting her independence from pre-existing currents. In the works she created in Greece in 1997-1999, such as Memories of Chinatown and Memories of American Cityscapes (acrylic paint and neon), Chryssa uses letters as abstract symbols and, in doing so, recreates an imaginary Times Square on canvas.

Androula Michaël

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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