Friday, May 22, 2009

Modern Greek Art Auction

To the surprise of many, the Modern Greek art market shows no signs of economic depression. On May 19, Bonhams auction house in London completed its Greek sale with stunning results, a $6.2 million sale. The sale took place in Athens and the buyers were predominantly Greek. "There is a real passion by Greeks for collecting Greek Art today," said Bonhams' agent. The clientele, however, also indicates the lack of interest by non-Greeks. Unlike its Classical or Byzantine correlate, Modern Greek art remains a closed national market, which is surprising given the international reaches of Greeks themselves as entrepreneurs or as diaspora communities.

Bonhams' auction broke many sale records. The highlights included, Nikos Lytras' Landscape ($175,800), Konstantinos Parthenis' Dawn ($566,700) above, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika's Studio with Easel ($513,220), Yannis Tsarouchis' Pasalimani ($315,160) and Georgios Bouzianis' Asian Princess ($238,800)

The lack of interest on Modern Greek art by an international audience is a product of many forces. For most, interest in Greece (tourism included) stops with the Classical and for a few with the Byzantine period. The importance of Ancient Greek in early American religious education has translated into the monopoly of Classical Studies in all Greek curricula. At the same time, Modern Greece has been so obsessively literary since its foundation, that it has ignored art history. Most national battles have been fought through language rather than the visual arts. Art history as an academic discipline hardly exists in Greek universities. In many ways, Greeks are textually over-literate but visually illiterate. The county boasts many writers of international acclaim and a couple of Nobe prizes. Cavafy, Elytis, Seferis, Kazantzakis, Ritsos are household names to literary historians. Yet no Modern Greek artist has caught the same international attention. The contrast with Modern Italy is telling. Visual literacy and cultural investment on the arts (thanks to the Renaissance tradition) trumps Greece. Roman Catholicism's Counter-Reformation visual exuberance, moreover, has made visual rhetoric quite sophisticated in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.

While teaching an independent study on Modern Greek Art in 2003, I realized how unsual it was to offer such a class in the United States. This is too bad considering how fertile the academic terrain is for "other," "lesser" modernisms (trying hard not to use the word "provincial.") Especially in the 1990s, the pages of the Art Bulletin were filled with reappraisals of Czech, Rumanian and Bulgarian modernism. After 9/11 the focus on minor Europe shifted outside of Europe altogether. What makes Modern Greek art interesting to a globalized context is not simply the cadres of national artists but also the Greeks of the diaspora whose international acclaim overshadows that of their peers living in Greece (e.g. Lucas Samaras, Yannis Kounelis, William Baziotes).

An appraisal of Greek-American artists alone is greatly needed. It is missing because the Greek American community has not been interested in the visual arts. The Greek-American identity has been dominated by Classical Greece, a phenomenon most brilliantly explored by anthropologist Yorgos Anagnostou. While teaching a History of Medieval Architecture class, one of my students approached me for an independent study on Modern Greek art. Fotini Xydas was a Greek-American senior majoring in Art History. The previous summer, she had interned with Christie's and was involved with the Modern Greek auction. And that's how the independent study began. Coming up with a syllabus was not difficult at all. Although there was no single textbook, the secondary literature in English was ample. After graduation, Fotini received a Master's in Museum Studies and began working for galleries in New York. She is currently Senior Research Associate at Citi Art Advisory Service and also pursuing a PhD. Although I knew that Fotini was unique, I appreciate how unusual her professional choices may have actually been in a Greek-American context. I have taken an informal survey among friends and colleagues in both universities and museums looking for young Greek American talent. Many Greek nationals in are taking Art History classes in American universities. They tend to be daughters of wealthy enterpreneurs, themselves art collectors, patrons and players in the Greek cultural arena. Those undergraduates typically return to Greece and oversee the family or the family company's cultural investments. The socio-economic profile is not different from American students in that respect. Given the lack of financial aid, undergraduates directly from Greece tend to be above-average in the socio-economic scale.

More surprising is the shortage of Greek-Americans, a much larger demographic pool than the foreign students. Greek-American students flock to Classical Studies instead. Looking at my own contemporaries, I note a few Greek-American academics specializing on Byzantium. This make sense; the Greek Orthodox Church of North America plays a central role in the education of the Greek community. I remember fondly Angela Volan telling me about her childhood inspirations in Merrillville, Indiana, looking up at the Byzantine mosaics of her parish.

Admitedly, Modern Greek art is a funny animal, missing the appropriate institutions for its study. The National Gallery in Athens and Melissa Publishing House have made huge contributions to the discipline in the last couple of decades. The flourishing Greek market must reflect this academic impetus. But time has come for Modern Greek art to break outside the national borders and receive greater exposure.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dumbarton Oaks and Surface Surveys

During the Q&A following my paper at the Dumbarton Oaks Spring symposium, I showed a map of the Peloponnese outlining the location of 16 archaeological surveys that have taken place between the pioneering 1968 Minnesota Messenia Expedition and the present. I also made a comment that, interestingly enough, Dumbarton Oaks had not financially supported any of these projects. As I might have anticipated, my comment solicited some further discussion at the conference and over email. Below, I have compiled some of my thoughts and clarifications on the subject, namely the lack of Dumbarton Oaks' interest in archaeological surface surveys in the late 20th century. I hope these observation will not be seen as confrontational but as the opening up of a larger discussion. The map comes from my dissertation, "Monuments of Rural Archaeology: Medieval Settlements in the Northwestern Peloponnese" (2003), p. 467, fig. 69.

In the last few years, I have been researching the history of Byzantine archaeology, exploring the wonderful personal friendships and motivations that bring scholars to the discipline. The research began with studies of Gabriel Millet, the American School of Classical Studies and Anastasios Orlandos
(in the DO paper) . With historiography in mind, I've been especially vigilant over the role that collections of individuals and corporate bodies have made in shaping the direction of the field. Dumbarton Oaks has of course been a major supporter of archaeological projects. But an institution's identity, I believe, can also be gauged by the kinds of projects it does not support just as much as by the projects it does support. And in this respect, Dumbarton Oaks has had a specific identity that ultimately reflects the intellectual horizons of its senior fellows. During the 1960s, archaeology experienced a theoretical revolution known as New Archaeology or Processual Archaeology, placing the discipline on its own methodological foundations and away from its traditional role as a "handmaiden" to text-based or art-based histories. This movement developed new principles, methods and field practices particularly in studying settlements and the landscape; these methods had began to be developed in North American archaeology during the 1930s. The discipline flourished in the Peloponnese with the pioneering Minnesota Messenia Expedition, known today as the grandfather of field surveys. My comment about DO's patronage referred to a map showing the location of the 16 regional surveys that have taken place in the Peloponnese since 1968. These were all "intensive" rather than "extensive" surveys, meaning that they started with an experimental hypothesis and collected data indiscriminately rather than seeking out known sites, monuments, or works of art. My comment, that Dumbarton Oaks had not financially supported any of them, is true.

DO's lack of interest for this kind of field project as opposed to all the other kinds of projects it has sponsored is historically interesting. The one way I can explain the omission has to do with the senior fellows who make the granting decisions. Most of them and especially the archaeologists, I believe, were never part of this tradition. The archaeologists had been trained in historical or art-historical traditions and, therefore, would have not been trained in archaeological theory post-1968 especially in North America. In my limited exposure to Dumbarton Oaks, I believe that some senior fellows were even explicitly hostile to this tradition and went out of their way to block it. I remember conversations with Angeliki Laiou, for example, giving me this distinct impression. In all her brilliance, Dr. Laiou had some archaeological blinders. My experience as co-director of the Morea Project has also been negative. The repeated rejection of DO support over the course of a decade seemed too consistent to be accidental; I never saw this as personal, but rather as disciplinary. Another important situation to consider is national scholarships. New Archaeology was an Anglo-American development. If you belong in a French, German, or Greek intellectual tradition, you might have missed surveys altogether. To this day, survey archaeology is an Anglo-American specialty, rarely practiced by continental archaeologists unless connected to Anglo-American mentors (e.g. medieval archaeology in Italy, Holland, etc). I remember being amused in the 2005 DO symposium, where Johannes Koder applied central-place theory, a concept so foundational in survey archaeology. David Clarke's 1968 "Analytical Archaeology" made central-place theory part of every American undergraduate textbook. But unless you were an American undergraduate in archaeology or anthropology (not in art history), you might have not even heard of it. Exposure to archaeological discourse varies even in the United States. None of my friends with PhDs from the NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, for example, have had the slightest exposure to it (despite grand projects like Aphrodisias); same goes for Princeton or Harvard, in contrast to UPenn, Brown (as of recently), Michigan, UT Austin, Ohio State, or Stanford.

I have great respect for all the projects that Dumbarton Oaks has financed and even greater respect for its directors and personnel. As the surface surveys of the 1970s-1990s are now finally getting published, however, it has become impossible to ignore this tradition. Hence it is unacceptable to do settlement archaeology, rural archaeology, or landscape archaeology without it. And I've been critical of projects and publications on settlement archaeology that ignore it. Producing architectural drawings for buildings may also be called survey, but it's an 18th-century method quite different from what we mean by archaeological survey today.

Thank you for enduring through this long elaboration explaining my comment on DO's lack of support for the great surveys of the Peloponnesian countryside through the 60s-90s. The state of archaeology is something very dear to me and a topic that I discuss at every opportunity. I feel passionate about promoting medieval and post-medieval archaeology because it has finally reached a moment of maturity, even self-sufficiency. Every year, during the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meetings, a Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology group meets and discusses the state of the field. Our goal is to create an intellectual forum, share data, sponsor colloquia and generally promote the field. The meetings are well attended (about 20 people every year) and the discussion often takes stock of where the discipline stands. We have always respected DO's contribution to archaeological research, but the consensus among American archaeologists working in Greece right now seems uniform: DO seems to be tied down by a very art-historical definition of archaeology and has missed the excitement of New Archaeology over the last half century. In that sense, I felt that my reading of DO's relationship to surface surveys is not entirely idiosyncratic but reflects a more general opinion. This of course is already a backward looking observation. The situation at DO at this moment might be entirely different. The inclusion of three survey archaeologists in last week's symposium painted a completely different picture, different even from the 2005 symposium on Anatolian settlement archaeology (that was organized by text historians). I am very optimistic about the future.

Actually, this is an interesting time for survey archaeology in general because the age of large regional projects has almost eclipsed. The grand surface surveys that boomed in the 1980s and 1990s are simply not possible anymore. The generation of pioneers, like Tim Gregory (in the Korinthia), John Bintliff (in Boeotia), Jack Davis (in Messenia; now dir. of the American School in Athens) and others, are now close to retirement age. Their projects required large groups of student personnel; field walking is labor intensive and requires large data sets (in order for the analysis to be statistically meaningful). Both the financial resources and the student interest are waning. The younger, or second, generation also lacks the heroic fervor of the first generation, who invented the discipline out of scratch. As products of the 1960s, the first generation was very utopian about the power of their methodology. Many were attacking 19th-century traditions entrenched in classical archaeology and they brought a little bit of the renegade flair. Processualism, moroever, has waned under the critics of Post-Processualism.

Most of the large survey projects in Greece are now finished. Smaller projects are trying to carry on the tradition with more limited goals. Another interesting issue has to do with the material (mostly pottery) that was collected in the first generation of surveys. It survives in bags, in basements of archaeological services; the material has now accumulated its own age, some of it has been moved, the plastic bags have began to deteriorate, tags are starting to disappear, etc. Since much of the material may need to be reconsidered (or published for the first time), there is the difficult question of reconstructing its meaning. I know Archie Dunn is dealing with this issue in Thisvi -- and thanks for pointing out that Archie has indeed received support from DO. Tim Gregory had surveyed the territory in the 1970s (I believe) but the material was not published. So it's being revisited and revamped. The new method has become old.

This is probably more than anyone wanted to know about surface surveys. I should have pointed out an additional reason why surveys may have escaped DO's immediate radar. Given their undiscriminating collection principles, surface surveys are diachronic. By covering prehistoric to modern periods, the projects were not explicitly conceived under the umbrella of Byzantine Studies. For a quick taste of the diachronic scope, I recommend "Beyond the Acropolis: A Rural Greek Past" by Van Andel and Runnels (1996), a very accessible book by the Stanford Argolid Survey. And as publications move into the 2000s, the Byzantine/Frankish/Ottoman material becomes ever more focused. Ioanita Vroom's dissertation on the pottery from the Boeotia Survey is as good as it gets ("After Antiquity," Leiden, 2003). One interesting side-effect of the diachronic focus is that prehistorians and Byzantinists got to know each other and discovered that they were equally marginalized by antiquity in the middle. So they teamed up and ganged up against the classicists.

In making a comment about the 16 Peloponnesian surveys, I did not seek to express any personal animosity towards Dumbarton Oaks, or perpetuate any battles from the previous generation. I felt it was a matter of fact that needed to be ever-so-slightly underscored. Dumbarton Oaks has single-handedly created a discipline of rural studies and a focus on every day life. We would be nowhere without it. This great accomplishment has been carried out through the careful study of primary texts, works of art and monumental architecture. Somehow, the discipline of survey archaeology, however, has slipped through the cracks. Perhaps the fault lies on us, its practitioners, for not making the data more accessible to scholars in other disciplines. Perhaps DO's art collection has aligned the institution philosophical closer to museums like the Getty or the Metropolitan and further away from contemporary archaeological theory and ethics. DO must come to terms, for example, with holdings of problematic provencance (such as the Sion Treasure from Turkey and other controversial Meso-American artifacts). I don't really know. And by no means can I claim any familiarity with the institution; I'm only an outside viewer looking in and mostly someone who enjoys trying to make sense of the recent past and scholarly

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mount Menoikeion: The Sacred Grip

My blog postings for the month of May have slowed down considerably because of the Dumbarton Oaks symposium last weekend and a presentation last night at Princeton University. I summarize the latter here. The Mount Menoikeion project is directed by Nikolas Bakirtzis and involves a multidisciplinary workshop at the monastery of Saint John Prodromos in Macedonia, Greece. In 2005 and 2007, I supervised the investigation of the monastery's surrounding landscape, its immediate and distant territory. The last time I was at Princeton was exactly two years ago as a Seeger Fellow. It was great to return and visit old friends but also to meet this year's fellows. The program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton is probably the closest thing to a Greek think-tank in North America (and quite different from Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington). It's an extraordinary place for generating and sharing ideas. Princeton, for me, offers another treat. Although not affiliated with the university, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens has its U.S. headquarter in the town. So I got a chance to visit the busy bees of ASCSA's publication office and to share some of my recent detective work on Georg von Peschke (a very important but unknown painter who worked in the Corinth excavations during the 1930s).

Our Mount Menoikeion presentation last night anticipates a paper that Bakirtzis, Milliner and I will give in October, 2009, at the Modern Greek Studies Association conference in Vancouver. Last night also marks the first time I've used Franklin and Marshall College as my new academic affiliation. I carried the name with great pride. For more information on the Mount Menoikeion workshop explore the website here.

The Sacred Grip
Landscape and Art in Mount Menoikeion (18th-20th Centuries)

Kostis Kourelis (Franklin and Marshall College)
Matthew J. Milliner (Princeton University

Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 6:00 p.m.
Princeton University, Scheide Caldwell House, Room 103

Mount Menoikeion near Serres, Greece, preserves a rich tradition shaped around the thirteenth-century monastery of Saint John Prodromos. The monastery evolved into a major monastic center, surviving through volatile chapters of Balkan history. It is a spectacular monument of Byzantine art and architecture surrounded by an equally spectacular natural environment. In 1986, the deteriorating architectural shell was taken over by a female community of nuns whose spiritual guide, the Athonite monk Elder Ephraim, resides in Arizona. The Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University established an annual field seminar to investigate the site's complexities in its modern and contemporary Greek context. Since 2005, the Mount Menoikeion Workshop has brought together a diverse group of scholars and students from anthropology, archaeology, history, classics, religion, music and art history. In preparation for the 2009 summer research season at Mount Menoikeion, this presentation will focus on two aspects of the monastery's history: landscape and wall paintings. The early modern landscape of Menoikeion reveals an inherent tension between the ideal of monastic wilderness and its aggressive human exploitation; the monastery's eighteenth and nineteenth century frescoes illuminate the post-Byzantine aesthetic trajectory of mainland Greece.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Kopanos: A Blog Challenge Fulfilled

This entire last weekend, I was physically in Washington, D.C. but mentally in the Peloponnesos. Dumbarton Oaks' annual symposium on Byzantine Studies was devoted to "Morea: The Land and Its People in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade." This was by far the most intellectually fulfilling symposium I have ever attended, brilliantly crafted by Sharon Gerstel (but more about that later). The session was attended by many colleagues associated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Maria Georgopoulou, Diana Wright, Pierre MacKay, Timothy Gregory, Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory, Glenn Bugh, Sharon Gerstel, Mary Lee Coulson, etc.), all friends who transported me to Greece. In the meantime, another member of the American School was searching the city of Athens for a blog challenge, the search for Isadora Duncan's house at Kopanos.

In my posting, Jogging Empowerment: Kopanos (Apr. 25, 2009), I challenged Antiquated Vagaries to find the house that Isadora Duncan built in 1903. The house is an amazing document of bohemian domesticity, a work of art in its own right, based on the house of Agamemnon. The challenge was met over the weekend. This is incredible. We can all now travel through space and time and share Katie's discovery. The narrative of discovery is just as interesting as the object of discovery. Don't waste your time with my words and immediately go to Success (Antiquated Vagaries, May 3, 2009).

I apologize in advance for the lull in my blog production. Between now and mid-May, I am overwhelmed with lectures, workshops, travel, exams, grading and most importantly planning for my new job, architectural historian at the College of Franklin and Marshall.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States