Chryssa (Vardea)

If you’ve never seen any of her works you would think that she is a contemporary artist and you’d probably would want to see her work up close and personal asap. Unfortunately she is not. That doesn’t mean that her work is any less important though. If anything, she is one of the most important greek artists of the 20th century. Chryssa’s neon and steel installations are very minimal and imposing without feeling heavy or pretentious. This is why she is staring in this week’s Women in Art.

Chryssa Vardea was born in Athens from the Mavromichalis family. She came from Mani. Chryssa’s family sent her off to Paris to study art as soon as they realized she was gifted. There, at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, she took classes with Alberto Giacometti as one of her professors. No wonder she became an excellent sculptor. After her studies in France she travelled to California to study at the California School of Fine Arts and soon after, she got her own studio in New York. She had a short lived marriage with known artist Jean Varda. Chryssa had a way of making art fun and interesting and her popularity resulted in her work being shown at Evangelismos metro station, in Athens.

Her first major work are The Cycladic Books, a series of sculptures that remind us of Cycladic sculpture as seen in the Cycladic Museum in Athens. Chryssa becomes a minimalist before the term even exists. In 1961 she has her first exhibition at The Guggenheim museum in New York and in 1963 she’s on show at the Museum of Modern Art for the Americans 1963 exhibition. Chryssa used elements of pop art to create her sculptures that reference the streets of New York, such as Mott Street, which is on show at Evangelismos Metro Station in Athens.

Another one of her most important works is The Gates to Times Square which consists of two giant A’s that reference America’s advertising culture. Her works get her a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972. In 1990 she returns to Greece for a big retrospective exhibition at Mihalarias Art Centre. Paintings, sculptures, installations, everything was on show there. Chryssa had a career admired by many mostly in New York. She returned to Greece in 1992 for a few years and created her own studio at Neos Kosmos, an industrial area at the time. She continued to create up untill her passing in 2013. Chryssa was a pioneer of her time and her works continue to inspire us to this day.