What do the solemn hands of Angela Merkel have in common with the protest fists of Greek cleaners wearing red rubber gloves? Why is every state visit validated with a firm hand shake in front of international press? What is the relationship between a poster design by Alexander Rodchenko depicting Lilya Brik's hand as a megaphone and the slogan of a Dutch political party “all hands on deck instead of handouts” [Handen uit de mouwen in plaats van hand ophouden]?
The solo exhibition by Antonis Pittas fires these questions at us by juxtaposing images of hands with one another. In this way, Pittas reactivates fragments from our collective public consciousness and creates unexpected relationships between objects. While lounging on a pouffe shaped like Pittas's hand, you can flip through tactile representations of hands. Pittas's installation combines these freely in order to associate the situation in the exhibition space with a variety of art-historical sources and images from the European political landscape. This game of association is not completely arbitrary, as the hands seen here are all examples of representations of hands that have played a role in the public sphere.
These hands illustrate that the public sphere has enlarged and become more chaotic in the past century. Photos of politicians rarely appeared in the paper in 1920, but by the late 1960s, politicians could be seen on TV debating in the House of Representatives, and today, they tweet voting-booth selfies. Politicians' increased visibility in the public domain has not necessarily made their thoughts or actions transparent.
To the contrary, it seems to distract attention from public and social interests, especially when the subject of discussion is a politician's pants suit or motorcycle.
By having chosen a selection from an enormous number of fragments, making them his own and then again making them public, Pittas creates new meaning, the value of which is not always clear. This strategy appears to fit seamlessly with contemporary reality, where the significance of what it means to be public also remains unclear. Of all the possible meanings of public, only one seems to be becoming ever more powerful today: that of publicizing or making something known to the world. Other senses of public – such as something being out in the open, or belonging to or being associated with government, society, or a specific social group (i.e. the public sector) – appear to be overshadowed by the dominant sense of public. There is a great deal of ambiguity wrapped up in the contemporary meaning of public. The hand – the body part so often encountered in the public domain – appears to be a most apt symbol for laying bare this equivocality.
Thematically circling around the hand, the exhibition in SMBA plays on the various meanings of the phrase “hold on:” a request to wait a moment, encouraging words to get through a difficult situation, or the physical act of using both hands to hold on to something. The many different uses of “hold on” provide playful ways of connecting with the performative installation.
, Amsterdam, 27 November 2015 – 10 January, 2016
Another Day: Nieuwe Aankopen, ABN AMRO Collection 2014-2015
, ABN AMRO hoofdkantoor, Amsterdam, from October 28, 2015
The Shock of Victory
, Centre for Contemporary Arts
, Glasgow, 18 September – 1 November, 2015
, Between the Pessimism of the Intellect and the Optimism of the Will, Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art
, Thessaloniki, 23 June – 30 September, 2015
For his new work 'throw hands' (2015) for the Thessaloniki Biennial, Antonis Pittas' intent is to create a performative space in which the past can be reactivated and the present addressed. The exhibition space hosts four large hands made from a faux-leather soft material in four different colours: red, blue, yellow and white. The objects are a cross between furniture and sculpture, and are intended for use: people can sit or lie on them. The hands, in turn, serve as a stage for the presentation of other works Pittas presents: a number of old-fashioned clipboards, reproduced in very expensive materials such as marble, bronze and other metals, materials usually used for government buildings or public sculpture, with bureaucratic or 'official' connotations. Attached to these are various collages of images showing hands of politicians and other political actors as represented in online and offline news media – gestures that are supposed to underline the importance of what is said, expressing anger, power or, sometimes, fear. While the work evokes the art historical past, including both pre- and post-war avant-gardes, the present it represents is associated with violence and the rationalization of violence. Photomontages of the German and Russian avant-garde often employed the hand of the artist as a sign of a new time to come: a time, in which the artist-engineer would have a crucial role in building society and realizing utopian ideas. Obviously, this hope was already frustrated back then and very violently so, but the force of the hand and the gesture keeps being interesting as a sign of political influence or defeat, or ideological instrumentalisation. Pittas view of the exhibition space – a former convention centre – as a very 'toxic', contaminated political environment, which might recall civilian protest and upheaval as well as the (violent) reaction of military and police forces to the state of apparent chaos. The colours of the hands indirectly refer to the abstract emblem that can be found on tear gas cans, which indicates the toxicity of the gas thrown by military and police.
For Pittas this ideogram strikingly resembles certain modern art forms, and can be seen as a kind of détournement of Bauhaus and De Stijl aesthetics into something quite different, more politically charged and confrontational. And of course, there are the obvious references to Barnett Newman's work series Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue (1966-1970) and Gustav Klutsis' photomontage of Lenin flanked by four hands depicting the pillars of Soviet society. During the last years, Pittas has been working on examining the paradoxical relationship between past and present and has found similarly contradictory relations in, for instance, the work of Bauhaus-designer Herbert Bayer. This historical interest also extends to the Costakis collection of Russian avant-garde and related archives at the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, from which Pittas will be curating a presentation during the biennial. The strong political implications of art from this period resonates with our present quite strongly, especially considering the situation in Greece and the Southern Mediterranean. Though Pittas does not see himself as the 'artist-engineer' that the early twentieth century avant garde had envisioned, he strives at least to create conditions for critical thoughts to be triggered, while eschewing any overt propagandistic messages. He sees himself as an observer, confronted with a reality of new collective movements, of tensions arising within societies and between regions, of complicated references and unresolvable contradictions. In this context, he is especially interested in capturing public or collective memory in the making as well as the dynamics of monumentalization that accompany this process, whereby his work becomes a kind of protester's memorial.
Between the Pessimism of the Intellect and the Optimism of the Will
, 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art
, Thessaloniki, 23 June – 30 September, 2015
, with Annet Gelink Gallery @ booth S12
, Basel, 18 – 21 June, 2015
Raccontare in luogo (Tales of a Place)
, Galleria Enrico Astuni
, Bologna, 6 June – 7 November, 2015
Back to the Future
, Annet Gelink Gallery
, Amsterdam, 27 March – 16 May, 2015
Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Bergen, 26 – 27 February, 2015
Untitled (mirror object)
, Pillar Huggers, Or Gallery
, Berlin, 23 January – 18 April, 2015
, Or Gallery
, Berlin, 23 January – 18 April, 2015
, with Annet Gelink Gallery @ booth 314
, Bogota, 24 – 27 October, 2014
, Annet Gelink Gallery
, Amsterdam, 6 June – 16 August, 2014
Antonis Pittas is from Greece.
Greece has come to symbolize crisis.
'Crisis' is a Greek word.
Antonis Pittas is not an artist who delivers solutions, nor does he draw on programmatic intentions. His work is about tracing patterns and exhibiting tensions by pointing out parallels between different historical periods and conceptual frameworks. European and American modernisms from the first half of the twentieth century – including the so-called historical avant-garde – have his special interest. He investigates how forms and ideas from the past travel through various contexts and arrive at the present by having acquired various, often conflictive meanings. He does so by identifying shapes, signs and symbols that are reminiscent of our avant-garde heritage in contemporary situations, which are usually far removed from the initial context of occurrence, and translates them into new artistic gestures.
Naiveté and literalism are embraced by Antonis as unavoidable methods of transhistorical comparison – Montage is no exception to this.
The installation at Annet Gelink Gallery almost bears a symbolic overload in terms of references to the artistic and cinematic past, starting with its very title.
It features a reconstruction of a cinema conceived in 1924 by Austrian artist and designer Herbert Bayer (1900-1985), whose Bauhaus-related oeuvre plays an important role for Antonis' art practice in general, in particular Bayer's ground-breaking exhibition designs, in which space is considered a cinematic and narrative entity.
In the design Pittas refers to, Bayer imagined the cinema space to be a place that could be both functional and aesthetically potent, as he turns the 'black box' of the cinema into something that is aesthetically meaningful beyond what happens on the screen. In Pittas' version, the cinema space becomes a stage for various photographs and sculptural objects that reconsider and re-evaluate Bayer's work in relation to both the Bauhaus movement and the current political context.
Jennifer Steetskamp, 2014
we will do as we have decided
, Performing Silence, De Nederlandsche Bank, Amsterdam, 24 October – 4 December, 2013
For a dual exhibition at De Nederlandsche Bank, Pittas took a closer look at the recent use of tear gas by police squads in cities such as Istanbul and Cairo. Following confrontations between protesters and police, large amounts of empty tear gas canisters of different shapes and sizes in addition to stones, wood and empty water bottles are left on the street, creating a very distinct atmosphere, showing the "calm after the storm".
In De Nederlandsche Bank exhibition space, Pittas translated the shapes of the gas cans and other leftovers into sculptural objects, combining them with text fragments from news coverage.
The objects can be taken up and rearranged by the viewers, which are turned into active participants of both the exhibition and the historical process. For the artst, this was of special interest, proposing a moment between destruction and monumentalization, violence and control, performance and documentation.
, No Country for Young Men,
, Brussels, 27 March – 3 August, 2014
Caa3 (Country Ceiling), is the first part of the series Country Ceilings, an ongoing investigation into the history and aesthetics of parliamentary architecture. It also examines relationships between economics and politics, and political and aesthetic representation. The title Caa3 refers to the latest country ceiling rating given to Greece by the credit rating agency Moody's. In the event that the rating changes, the title of the work will change with it. By depicting ceilings of European parliaments, the series takes the financial term 'country ceiling' (referring to certain debt risks) literally. Caa3 is a sculpture including a large photograph of the ceiling of the Greek parliament placed horizontally on a pillar made of marble. The Greek ceiling dates from 1935 and incorporates the ancient decorative motif of the meander (meandros).
This decorative symbol has frequently been used to represent divergent political ideals (for example, the extreme right-wing party Golden Dawn have adopted it as their logo). The Greek parliament building has a fascinating history – it was originally the Royal Palace where Greece's Bavarian monarchs lived in the nineteenth century. Today, under its roof, some of the most dramatic decisions are taken concerning the future of the country. By bringing this ceiling to the European capital of Brussels, the work achieves a particular urgency, reflecting on the various aspects of and contradictory tendencies brought about by the European debt crisis.
, Once upon a time… The Collection until Now,
, Eindhoven, 2013 – onwards
Pittas' Landart is both an object and a performative act: In each space it is presented, the artist writes on the marble sculpture with graphite, words that are erased when the exhibition is finished. He reiterates phrases from the public domain, in this case from online sites of newspapers.
The artist is especially interested in de-contextualizing and re-contextualizing public statements made in the context of revolutionary events, and connects them in the framework of the exhibition space with art historical icons, such as minimalist sculpture and the abstract shapes of Russian avant-garde painting.
In Amsterdam (at Annet Gelink Gallery) version for example, he appropriated a 2012 statement by IMF director Christine Lagarde reacting on the economic situation in Greece, in which she reminds the country of its obligations towards the international community by uttering the word "implementation" repeatedly.
The stone structure refers to Syndagma Square in Athens, as it is a replica of one of its marble steps, vandalized during the upheavals.
, Op Karakter / Op Talent,
, Amsterdam, 22 February – 23 March, 2014
, Scenographies, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam
, 14 September – 16 November, 2013
Antonis Pittas adopts the role of exhibition designer, presenting his work as part art, part architecture, and part framing device; his structures offer certain conditions for both the artists who present their work in the space as well as viewers who can choose to follow his new choreographies.
Seemingly devoid of content and flexible for change, the forms used are full of significance, derived from Pittas's investigation into the Bauhaus ideology of the 'total design solution' and avant-garde belief in 'the power of display'.
Reel Times in particular references the work of Herbert Beyer in the propagandistic MoMA exhibition Road to Victory staged in 1942. Initially intended to manufacture a patriotic image of the American public, Pittas transposes that historical show's elegant and somewhat melodramatic infrastructure into a contemporary context, thus correlating its thematics of progress and destruction with current ideological failure (the 'failure of the new').
This cyclical idea of history in the re-making becomes material in Pittas's use of the SMBA's wooden floor. His archaeological peeling back of the layers of the this public space's own history (evidenced by the grit and oils collected around the edges of each wooden panel) literally grounds the project in real, or reel, time.
, Agora, 4th Athens Biennale, Athens
, 29 September – 1 December, 2013
Playing with the idea of vandalism and reflecting on processes of image creation, Pittas looked at the main entrance of the former stock market in Athens as a 'vandalized' site that at serves as a monument for recent processes in the public domain, including public protests.
Letters in graphite take up the typography of the existing inscription at the back wall of the entrance (including the 'stock exchange' inscription), covering the walls, the floor and even some parts of the columns.
The text is an adapted version of the Athens Biennial's official statement, combined with my text fragments. The textual order was partly determined by the given architectural conditions. Since the opening day, thousands of people have entered the building, stepping on the text, making the graphite letters slowly disappear.
, Benaki Museum, Athens
, 12 February, 2011 – 1 April, 2011
The installation Landart draws from a multi-dimensional series of cues offered by the architecture, institutional memory, and discursive space of the Benaki Museum, Athens, for whom the work was commissioned. It presents a platform for considering collective memory in the public sphere, creating a stage-like space and new sensory experience.
Landart emphasizes the geometry of the building's structure by adding 90 fluorescent TL lamps, forming a grid which contrasts with the diagonal movement of the viewer ascending the ramp and makes the building's facade appear transparent. In this environment, otherwise abstract shapes and minimalism are reactivated in reference to Suprematism (specifically to the 0.10 exhibition of Malevich in 1915), but also to recent protests in Athens and the Occupy Movement.
This light installation is accompanied by a marble replica of a step in the staircase of Syndagma Public Square in Athens, on which a quotation from a The Guardian news article regarding the gravity of the 2011 social upheaval is reproduced by graphite pencil.
, Hessel Museum of Art & CCS Bard Galleries
, New York, 7 December, 2011 – 26 February, 2012
The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College is proud to present RETROACTIVE, an exhibition of site-specific works by Greek artist Antonis Pittas. This installation adds to the ongoing dialogue explored in his 2010 and 2011 exhibits Untitled (this is a historic opportunity for us) at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, and shame on you, at the Annet Gelink Gallery in Amsterdam, where Pittas lives and works.
The work in RETROACTIVE draws from a multi-dimensional series of cues offered by the architecture, institutional memory, and discursive space of CCS Bard and presents a platform for considering collective memory in the public sphere.
Pittas acts as a conduit in the development of his large-scale graphite drawings and sculptural objects, porously responding to and appropriating the shifting conditions of his physical site and its surrounding socio-political energies. Traces of the exhibit Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977, which previously inhabited the CCS Bard Galleries, are reactivated by Pittas to illuminate the artists' shared engagement with the nonobjective work of the Russian avant-garde. Otherwise abstract shapes: triangle, circle, and square, are contaminated by allusions to picket signs and graffiti drawn from the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, and protests in the artist's hometown of Athens. Such evocative aesthetic and contextual shifts mirror the memes of the current global climate of protest and upheaval. Likewise, texts collected from the public domain and fragments of news stories are promoted from the quotidian to the iconic.
Drawn text "Let him go, let him go," chanted at a recent Oakland demonstration, snakes around the architecture like a paused ticker, toying with the viewer's perception of time. The result is a sweeping and spare Suprematist composition that posits the physical and ephemeral scars of the city in the memorializing site of the museum.
The mercurial surface of graphite in Pittas' precisely rendered graphic and text interventions activates the concrete floor and white gallery walls, achieving an optical effect that confuses the mundane and the sublime. The viewer is invited to tread on the floor drawings, dismantling the work by displacing the residue of the graphite, either as a passive or political gesture. This registers a shifting set of conditions for the experience of the exhibit. The malleability of the work dually evokes the fragility of any fixed, subjective relationship to place, and lends authorship to the public, asking what can deconstruction produce? What informs public memory? Can we look to marks left by acts of impulse, hostility, necessity, or incident to provide a more honest reading of the skin of the city? And lastly when does the ephemeral become monumental?
Shame On You
, The Bakery, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam
, 19 February, 2011 – 27 March, 2011
The installation shame on you was realized in Annet Gelink Gallery Amsterdam. Consisting of a graphite drawing on a wooden panel and two display cases, it offers a direct viewer address which raises questions of exhibitionism and voyeurism.
The wooden panel, an opaque surface, both invokes and counters the common association of a doorway. The only light in the room emanates from the display case against the wall. At first sight the display cases seem empty. Yet the contains one a small, figurative drawing; the glass vitrine simultaneously functions as an architectonic object and a display to this drawing.
The second, standing display case also seems empty. Viewers will have difficulty locating the written message 'shame on you': it appears to be on the outside of the first glass panel, vulnerable to touch, but is in fact 'floating' sealed and protected within the vitrine.
These written traces refer back to the creation of the opaque graphite panel. The phrase 'shame on you' invokes a sense of guilt, damage, voyeurism, but was in fact borrowed from an Athens protestor critiquing the Greek government during the first series of public protest in early 2011.
Untitled (this is a historic opportunity for us)
, Eindhoven, 2 March, 2010 – 25 June, 2010
The work Untitled (this is a historic opportunity for us) was realized at the Van Abbemuseum as part of the artist residency in 'Het Oog' from February until June (2010).
For each week of the residency, a sentence was applied to the interior wall of the space with a graphite stick, constituting a performance. The words were taken from current news items. For five months, this procedure was repeated on fixed days at pre-announced times. In this way, a visitor to the Van Abbemuseum encountered the continuing development of the writing on the wall as a weekly ritual. More and more sentences could be seen week after week, resulting in a total of 18 news quotes.
The quotes applied on the wall were also printed on badges. That is, sometimes the actual sentence from the wall was reproduced on the badge and sometimes an image that was part of the news item was chosen to be displayed on the badge to accompany the quotes. As a result, every week a limited amount of buttons, with a new phrase/image, was released and distributed to the visitors. In addition, one of each button was collected in a vitrine standing in front of the wall, forming part of the installation.