Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali (Greek: Χρύσα Βαρδέα-Μαυρομιχάλη; December 31, 1933 – December 23, 2013) was a Greek American artist who worked in a wide variety of media. An American art pioneer in light art and luminist sculpture widely known for her neon, steel, aluminum and acrylic glass installations, she has always used the mononym Chryssa professionally. She worked from the mid-1950s in New York City studios and worked since 1992 in the studio she established in Neos Kosmos, Athens, Greece.
Chryssa was born in Athens into the famous Mavromichalis family from the Mani Peninsula. Her family, while not rich, was educated and cultured; one of her sisters, who studied medicine, was a friend of the poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis.
Chryssa began painting during her teenage years and also studied to be a social worker. In 1953, on the advice of a Greek art critic, her family sent her to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière where André Breton, Edgard Varèse, and Max Ernst were among her associates and Alberto Giacometti was a visiting professor.
In 1954, at age twenty-one, Chryssa sailed for the United States, arrived in New York and went to San Francisco, California to study at the California School of Fine Arts. Returning to New York in 1955, she became a United States citizen and established a studio in the city.
At the age of 79, Chryssa died of heart-related problems, in Athens, Greece, on December 23, 2013.
Major works and milestones
Chryssa's first major work was The Cycladic Books, a series of plaster reliefs which the French art critic Pierre Restany described as having produced "the purified and stylized geometric relief which is characteristic of Cycladic sculpture." According to the American art historian and critic Barbara Rose, The Cycladic Books preceded American minimalism by seventeen years.
Arrow: Homage to Times Square is a large 8 ft by 8 ft (2.4 m) work in painted cast aluminum. In a 2005 interview in Vouliagmeni, Chryssa said: "I only ever kept one work for more than 15 years in my studio, "The Arrow" – it is now in Albany, in the Rockefeller Collection."
Chryssa's work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in curator Dorothy Canning Miller's Americans 1963 exhibition. The artists represented in the show also included Richard Anuszkiewicz, Lee Bontecou, Robert Indiana, Richard Lindner, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg, Ad Reinhardt, James Rosenquist and others.
The Gates to Times Square, regarded as "one of the most important American sculptures of all time" and "a thrilling homage to the living American culture of advertising and mass communications", is a 10 ft cube installation of two huge letter As through which visitors may walk into "a gleaming block of stainless steel and Plexiglas that seems to quiver in the play of pale blue neon light" which is controlled by programmed timers. First shown in Manhattan's Pace Gallery, it was given to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York in 1972.
Clytemnestra is in the Corcoran Gallery of Art collection in Washington, D.C.. It is based on the anguish of Clytemnestra, upon learning that her daughter would be sacrificed by Agamemnon, as portrayed by Chryssa's friend Irene Papas in the Michael Cacoyannis production of Iphigeneia at Aulis on Broadway. This work, or another version of it, has also been installed outside the Megaron Concert Hall in Athens.
Received the Guggenheim fellowship.
Chryssa's 70 ft (21 m) Untitled Light Sculpture, six large 'W's connected by cables and programmed electronically to create changing patterns of light through 900 feet of neon tubing, is suspended in the atrium of 33 West Monroe, a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design and its former headquarters, in Chicago, Illinois.
Chryssa 60/90 retrospective exhibition in Athens in the Mihalarias Art Center. After her long absence from Greece, a major exhibition including large aluminum sculptures - cityscapes, "neon boxes" from the Gates to the Times Square, paintings, drawings etc. was held in Athens.
In 1992, after closing her SoHo studio, which art dealer Leo Castelli had described as "one of the loveliest in the world," Chryssa returned to Greece. She found a derelict cinema which had become a storeroom stacked with abandoned school desks and chairs, behind the old Fix Brewery near the city center in Neos Kosmos, Athens. Using the desks to construct enormous benches, she converted the space into a studio for working on designs and aluminum composite honeycomb sculptures. The Athens National Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded in 2000 and owns Chryssa's Cycladic Books, is in the process of converting the Fix Brewery into its permanent premises.
Chryssa presented her paintings at the Mihalarias Art Center.
A partial listing of monographs on Chryssa's work:
- 1968: Diane Waldman. Chryssa: Selected Works 1955–1967. New York: Pace Gallery (48 pp.) ISBN 0-938608-21-5.
- 1974: Sam Hunter. Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (76 pp.) ISBN 0-500-22018-2.
- 1977: Pierre Restany. Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (274 pp.) ISBN 0-8109-0366-0.
- 1983: Douglas Schultz. Chryssa: Urban Icons. Buffalo: Albright-Knox (170 pp.) ISBN 0-914782-47-9.
- 1990: Douglas Schultz. Chryssa: Cityscapes. London: Thames & Hudson (162 pp.) ISBN 0-500-09209-5.
Exhibitions and collections
Partial listings of exhibitions and institutions with works by Chryssa in permanent collections:
- 1961: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 
- 1965: Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
- 1968: Harvard University 
- 1972: Whitney Museum of American Art 
- 1979: Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris 
- 1961: Le Nouveau Réalisme à Paris et à New York, Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, June 1961
- 1963: Museum of Modern Art 
- 1977: Documenta '77 in Kassel 
- 1991: Princeton University Art Museum 
- 1997: Leo Castelli Gallery 
- 2000, 2003 & 2005: European Cultural Center of Delphi 
- 2007: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden 
- 2017: documenta 14
- Albright-Knox Art Gallery 
- Boca Raton Museum of Art
- Corcoran Gallery of Art 
- The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden 
- Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki 
- Museum of Modern Art 
- National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens 
- National Gallery of Athens
- Walker Art Center 
- Whitney Museum of American Art 
Although Chryssa has always used the mononym professionally, some fine arts and art auction references nevertheless cite her as Chryssa Vardea, Vardea Chryssa, Chryssa Varda, or Varda Chryssa.
- "Chryssa, Artist Who Saw Neon's Potential as a Medium, Dies at 79". The New York Times. January 18, 2014.
- Lawrence O'Toole (February 4, 1990). "Where Neon Art Comes of Age". The New York Times.
- "A Times Square of the Mind". TIME magazine. March 18, 1966.
- Frank Popper (2007). "The Collection: Neon". Grove Dictionary of Art. Museum of Modern Art website.
- Chryssa. "Siren, Urban Traffic, Flapping Birds, Chinatown". Four large scale neon and honeycomb aluminum works. The Varo Registry of Women Artists (the registry is named for artist Remedios Varo).
- "Chryssa: Brief biography and images of 3 works". One piece from The Cycladic Books (1957–1962) and two 1983 works, Untitled and Chinese Cityscape. Art Topos (artopos.org).
- Stephan Bartholomä. "Deep Mani 2: Areopoli to Kitta". Mani: a Guide and History.
... the most famous of them being Petros Mavromichalis who became Bey of Mani in 1815 and is always referred to as 'Petrobey'.
- Robert Rogal (2006). "Chryssa biography". Ro Gallery, Long Island City, Queens.
[Chryssa]: In Times Square the sky is like the gold of Byzantine mosaics or icons. It comes and goes in the foreground instead of remaining in the background.
- "Vardea Chryssa Biography". MetroArtWork - Contemporary Art For Everyone. Archived from the original on 2009-04-21.
- Ilias Bissias interview (December 13, 2005). "Everything becomes sculpture". Life in Capital A.[permanent dead link]
- Megakles Rogakos (August 2005). "Vardea Chryssa Biography". American College of Greece. Archived from the original on 2007-08-07.
Chryssa's sculptures, with precision and definite form, were a reaction against the prevalent Abstract expressionism of the 1950s ... [she] first made Pop images such as depictions of automobile tires and cigarettes. In sculptures she utilized letters of the alphabet, ideas that predated similar images by Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.
- PicassoMio Gallery. "Chryssa Biography".
Her work, The Gates to Times Square (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo) is regarded as one of the most important American sculptures of all time.
- Wayne Craven. American Art: History and Culture (p. 607). McGraw-Hill Professional, 2002. ISBN 0-07-141524-6.
- Robert Hughes (June 4, 1973). "Mysteries of Neon". Time magazine.
[Chryssa] went into neon as fictive archaeology. The result is a chimerical amalgam of cultures, as though Chryssa's eye had got ahead of the present and were looking back on Times Square from a vantage point as remote in time from it as ours is from ancient Greece. ... at her best—as in That's all or the large and visually splendid Today's Special—she can give her apparently explicit light-sculptures an intense mystery, transforming the gallery space into a small Delos of the neon sign.
- Fox, Margalit (2014-01-18). "Chryssa, Artist Who Saw Neon's Potential as a Medium, Dies at 79". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-18.
- "Chryssa, 20 Cycladic Books, 1957". National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens. Pierre Restany, Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1977. ISBN 0-8109-0366-0. Archived from the original on 2008-11-16.
- "Arrow: Homage to Times Square (sculpture)". Smithsonian American Art Museum inventories database. 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- David Rumsey. "Chryssa (Mavromicali) Times Square Sky 1962". The AMICA Library: Art Museum Images from Cartography Associates. Neon, aluminum, steel (60" × 60" × 9½"), Walker Art Center.
- "Americans 1963". Exhibition catalogue description, International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.[permanent dead link]
- Guy Hubbard (November 2003). "Clip & save art notes: About The Gates to Times Square". Arts & Activities. Archived from the original on 2004-09-06.
- Albright-Knox Art Gallery. "The Gates to Times Square". Sculpture/Construction. Chryssa, 1966. Welded stainless steel, neon, and plexiglass. Overall: 120 × 120 × 120" (304.8 × 304.8 × 304.8 cm.) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. List, 1972.
- Bernstock, Judith E. (1993). "Classical Mythology in Twentieth-Century Art: An Overview of a Humanistic Approach". Artibus et Historiae. 14 (27): 153. doi:10.2307/1483450. JSTOR 1483450.
- National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens. "Exhibitions (1969–1981 timeline, Greek artists)". Archived from the original on 2008-11-16.
- Sims, Lowery S.; Balboul, Ida; Goodman, Cynthia; Leve, Susan; Hunter-Stiebel, Penelope (1975). "Twentieth Century Art". Notable Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (1975/1979): 72. doi:10.2307/1513633. JSTOR 1513633.
That's All is the central panel of a huge triptych Chryssa worked on for several years and is the culmination of the graphic ideas embodied in The Gates of Times Square (1964-66), the artist's major work of the 1960s. Through her preoccupation with contemporary technology and her fascination with American systems of communication, the Greek-born artist has expanded our traditional view of sculpture.
- Exhibitions listed by the Artforum Culture Foundation.
- Wacks, Debora (1997). "Chryssa". In Gaze, Delia (ed.). Dictionary of women artists. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. pp. 390–392. ISBN 1884964214. OCLC 37693713.
- "33 West Monroe, Chicago". Description on Emporis.
- Ilias Bissias (May 12, 2006). "Contemporary Greek art...underground!". Life in Capital A.
Entitled "Mott Street", after the main street in Manhattan's Chinatown which inspired it, it is a firm favourite with Athenians. Characteristic of the artist's later work, this large, sinewy, dark aluminium sculpture, lit with fiery pink-red neon lights, brims with energy and is really rather breathtaking.[permanent dead link]
- Works of Art (includes images) Archived September 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine in Athens Metro stations include Chryssa's Mott Street in the Evangelismos station.
See also: TourTripGreece Athens Metro article Archived 2008-03-13 at the Wayback Machine about the "underground art museums" in the stations.
- Curator and art critic Takis Mavrotas (August 6, 1996). "Projections of Sculpture on screens of the future". Artopos (extract from "Ciné Oasis" catalog).
In an age dominated by abstract expressionism ... Chryssa had made her own personal proposal, free of borrowings from or direct references to other artists, beyond the pale of the avant-garde.
- The National Museum of Contemporary Art Archived August 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine founded in 2000 in Athens. The Museum sponsors Archived November 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine include I. F. Costopoulos Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Athens Metro, Alpha Bank, ATEbank, and Otenet. The Museum Building Archived December 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine (formerly the Fix Brewery).
- Dimitris Rigopoulos (January 14, 2003). "The National Museum of Contemporary Art set to get a new 2,500 sq.m. exhibition space". Kathimerini. Archived from the original on December 31, 2013.
- Chryssa: Urban Icons event, "13 related objects." Includes oil paintings and other media. 21 Related Objects.
- Douglas G. Schultz (1990). "Chryssa: Cityscapes". London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-09209-5. Conversations with architect I. M. Pei, art dealer Leo Castelli, and others. 148 plates; list of public collections and exhibitions.
- "Light Negative Positive" Poster, March 28, 1968 – April 15, 1968 in Harvard Yard at Robinson Hall, the former Harvard University library which the John Hay Library replaced in 1910.
- Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Jacques Lassaigne and Pierre Restany, CHRYSSA: Oeuvres recentes (Recent Works) Archived July 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. 1979, in French.
- Vivien Raynor (June 30, 1991). "Sculptures That Announce Themselves With a Blaze of Light". The New York Times.
- Leo Castelli Gallery (October 25 – November 15, 1997). "Forty Years of Exploration and Innovation: The Artists of the Castelli Gallery 1957–1997". Carnegie Mellon University Center for Arts Management and Technology.
- European Cultural Center of Delphi (Council of Europe). "Leading Artists of the 20th century:[permanent dead link] Chryssa - Takis" (17 June 2000 – 18 July 2000). Works by Chryssa included Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus, Athenian Landscape No. 2 and No. 3, Paris Landscape No 2, Marilyn, Times Square, The Newspaper, and (for the first time) the copper Cycladic Books: Green Series. Eighteen works by Takis included Photovoltaic Energy, Acoustic Chords, and Hommage à Apollon.
- European Cultural Center of Delphi (Council of Europe). "Apollo's Heritage"[permanent dead link] (July 4, 2003 – July 30, 2003). Works by sixteen artists: Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, Nikos Engonopoulos, Yannis Tsarouchis, Giorgos Sikeliotis, Takis, Arman, Fernando Botero, Chryssa, Dimitris Mytaras, Alekos Fassianos, Sarantis Karavouzis, Yiannis Psychopedis, Dimitris Sakellion, Georgios Xenos.
- European Cultural Center of Delphi (Council of Europe). "Columns and Pillars"[permanent dead link] (July 1, 2005 – July 23, 2005). Works by Yannis Moralis, Costas Tsoclis, Alekos Fassianos, Sotiris Sorogas, Pavlos, Yiannis Psychopedis, Dimitris Mytaras, Opy Zouni, Novello Finotti, Stephan Antonakos, Chryssa, Günther Uecker, and others.
- ArtNet. "New this month in U.S. Museums". "Refract, Reflect, Project: Light Works from the Collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden" (February 15, 2007 – April 8, 2007). Giovanni Anselmo, Chryssa, Ólafur Elíasson, Spencer Finch, Dan Flavin, Christoph Girardet, Joseph Kosuth, Iván Navarro, James Turrell, Thomas Wilfred.
- "Chryssa". www.documenta14.de. Retrieved 2019-03-23.
- "Clytemnestra (sculpture)". Smithsonian American Art Museum database. 2016.
- "Empire State Plaza Art Collection". Retrieved 14 November 2018.
- Eleven works[permanent dead link] in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution records. Works include: Cityscape Sculpture Times Square #11, c. 1982–1988 (honeycomb aluminum panel, metallic paint and neon; 96 x 96 x 30 inches), and Study for The Gates #15 (Flock of Morning Birds from Iphigeneia at Aulis by Euripides), 1967 (neon, glass, plastic, copper wire, wood, and timer; 95⅛ × 35½ × 29½ in).
- Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki. "Collection: Chryssa". China Town (1975 lithograph). Folded Repeated Forms, Times square city scape, Schismi (1990–1995 sculptures). Arrow (undated construction). Archived from the original on 2008-04-15.
- "Chryssa (Vardea)". www.nationalgallery.gr. Retrieved 2019-03-23.
- Louise Lewis (February 17 – March 31, 2001). "Sirens and Other Neon Seductions". Catalog essay, Art Galleries, California State University, Northridge. Image of Fragments for Gates to Times Square II 1966 (programmed neon and acrylic glass) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.
- Museums references on AskART.com.