One of the best parts about CYA field trips is that while we’re exposed to incredible archaeological and historical sites, we also get a taste of many aspects of modernity. This past week we were in the Peloponnese learning about ancient sites in Mycenae and the Palace of Nestor, but one of my classes in particular got a special treat in the form of a private viewing of an exhibition in Nafplio.
Taught by Athena Hadji, The Art and Craft of Curating focuses on all aspects of an exhibition space, from the work of the first curators, to different kinds of exhibition spaces and annual contemporary art festivals. During the Peloponnese trip, professor Hadji took our class to a special exhibition at Fougaro, a museum and artist collective outside Nafplio. Originally a tomato factory, Fougaro has now been transformed into a beautiful open air space with lots of cafes and tables for people to sit and enjoy the outdoors, but this new creative space also preserves the original brickwork of the factory and its ever-iconic tall chimney. In its role as an artist collective that showcases work from many different realms of the art world, Fougaro has collaborated with the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation to put on a retrospective of the work of Yannis Tseklenis entitled “Tseklenis-The Years of Fashion”.
The exhibition focuses on the designer’s work through collections of clothes and fabrics, starting in 1965 -when he first introduced his collection- and ending in 1991, with his final withdrawal from the world of fashion. Tseklenis is well known for creating intricate, delicate, and powerful fabrics that captured the attention of audiences all over the world. After hearing bits and pieces about his fashion career in class lectures, I was really excited to see his work up close, and I wasn’t disappointed.
After we had taken in the beauty of the industrial artistic space of Fougaro and learned a bit about the history of the location, the exhibition librarian welcomed us and gave us some background on Yannis Tseklenis, explaining why he came to be one of the most prominent fashion designers in Greece. Since the librarian only spoke Greek, professor Hadji translated for us, and watching the exchange between them was really interesting from a linguistic standpoint because she seemed to be translating word for word what the librarian was saying about the exhibition. I’ve always found foreign languages so interesting to hear because the way sentences and conversations are composed is often so different from English, and this particular case was no exception. It was also surreal to be in an extremely visual space like an art exhibition because anytime the librarian motioned towards a piece of clothing or a design by Tseklenis, I could almost infer what he was saying from his movements and the cadence of his voice, which was awesome to experience.
After getting a good handle on the life of Tseklenis and his fashion successes, as well as his disappointments, we got to look around the gallery space and see his work up close. Fashion has always been really interesting to me because it’s hard to remember that the patterns on fabric are designed by someone. What’s more, it’s incredible to get an insight into a designer’s artistic process and their inspiration, like being granted access to the inner thoughts of an artist. The fabrics in particular were designed and styled with such immense attention to detail and care that it was very easy to see how Tseklenis rose to fame so quickly in his career. Indeed, they encapsulate the history of Greece and the fluidity of the art scene in the 60s and 70s, and seeing them also gave us an insight into what visuals were most important for Tseklenis at the time.
Looking at all of those pieces of clothing reminded me of all the different kinds of art that exist in the world and how much they can mean to so many groups of people. Coming from the United States, it can be really easy to forget that there are so many different artists and so many different modes of art, which I know I’d absolutely love if I was more exposed to them. This exhibition also reminded me that there are other ways I can get involved with my local art community while exploring the possibilities that aren’t necessarily right in my backyard. One of the most important things we’ve learned about curation on professor Hadji’s course is that an exhibition isn’t only deemed successful if it was necessarily good or exceptional, but if it is remembered and talked about after the fact. If an exhibition lasts in people’s minds, if it makes an imprint, then the curator has done their job. I for one definitely left the exhibition space of Fougaro feeling honored, impressed, and excited to find more art to see and discuss in Greece.