REDISCOVERING NONDA (1922-2005) (THE NEW BENAKI MUSEUM, ATHENS, )
The recent full retrospective of the artist NONDA (1922-2005) titled SIX DECADES OF ART 1940-2000 at the New Benaki Museum in Athens (Dec-Feb 2007) is a rare example of the rediscovery of a 20th century modernist master in Paris. Historically, a handful of great artists were “lost” or “forgotten” for long periods. In extreme cases, such as with Caravaggio, hundreds of years may pass before chance recognition visits. In this instance, a year after his death from Alzheimer’s complications, NONDA, the Greek born painter of the postwar School of Paris has been resurrected in what has been hailed as one of the most stunning shows in recent Greek history.
1952 at the Parnassus Gallery in Athens, he exhibited a series of violent and highly explicit nudes of Parisian women. The Parnassus show generated an immediate scandal. The police, urged by the board of directors at the Parnassus venue, immediately ordered the show closed and padlocked the doors. The charge was “offense of public decency”. Like Modigliani’s first one-man show in Paris, it had reached the classic impasse, the clash of a conservative authority with an independent and free thinking artist.
While almost entirely unknown in , NONDA was behind some of the most fascinating art movements which took place during the last 50 years as well as a member of the legendary Ecole de Paris, exhibiting yearly with the Charpentier gallery at the salons alongside Picasso, Leger, Miro, Chagall and others. In the early 50’s he pioneered a dramatic style which used the blood from cow spleens and charcoal as a medium. From the 1950’s onward, the use of blood was to be a major component in many works, culminating in his striking Spleen or ‘Sanguine” abstract expressionist series of the 70’s. This was long before any conceptual movement in later years used blood for its symbolic connotations. In a large feature in the France-Soir newspaper, J.P Crespelle writes, “Just as Picasso had his rose period and his blue period, so Nonda will be remembered for his period of spleen.”
In 1960, with the personal support of the minister of culture, André Malraux, he organized, for the first time in three centuries, a 24 hour one-man show under the arches of the Pont Neuf in Paris. His aim was to take the work out of the galleries where it was seen as a commercial product and make it available to the people. By consciously rejecting the constraints of the gallery establishment, Nonda reintegrated a tradition of public art we consider routine today.
He held three different Pont Neuf exhibits, the most famous, in 1963, contained a giant Trojan horse built of steel tubing, wood and newspapers, in which the artist lived for the duration of the show. In the last paragraph of Crespelle’s landmark book, (“Montmartre Vivant”) which charts the major artistic figures of Paris’ Montmartre district, he writes, “NONDA, the volcanic Greek painter (Greque volcanique), continues to hold true to the traditions of free and revolutionary painting at the summit of the old hill.”
The exhibition, with it’s assemblage of over 150 works, objects, sculpture and furniture was a dramatic sample of one man’s obsession with art and an “unveiling” of one of the 20th century’s undiscovered forces in modern art.
© 2007 Stephanos Papadopoulos
Stephanos Papadopoulos was born in North Carolina and raised in Paris and Athens. Educated in the and Edinburgh, he holds a degree in classical archaeology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was invited to the Rat Island Foundation by Derek Walcott in 1998. His work has been published in periodicals such as The Yale Review, Poetry Review, Stand Magazine, The New Republic and many others. He has translated works of the Greek poets, Yiannis Ritsos and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke. he is editor and co-translator of Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems, 2007. Lost Days, his first collection, is published by Michael Hulse with Leviathan Press in London and Rattapallax Press in New York. His second book Hotel-Dieu is forthcoming and he is at work on a book about the Black Sea Greeks. email@example.com all articles from this author