An American in Athens

By Christina Pyrgaki

It is not certain whether this bronze statue (480-300 BCE) represents Zeus or Poseidon because we are not sure if there was a trident or a lightning bolt in its right hand. The statue was found in two pieces at the bottom of the sea off the Cape of Artemission in the 1920s. (Picture by the author)

Since the news of the financial crisis in Europe reached the us, whenever I meet someone for the first time, I have to emotionally prepare for the inevitable discussion that usually follows my answer to the question “Where is your accent from?” You see, I am Greek, and since it so happened that Greece was the first country to be singled out as the failure of the eu, I have to face the “consequences.” When people find out that I am Greek, I am, more often than not, showered with comments of concern about my “trouble-ridden” country. Less often I have to politely dismiss tasteless jokes about my country’s lack of financial responsibility. After that I usually have to respond to questions pertaining to what caused the financial crisis and what course of action will correct it, what is the future of Greece in the eu, or whether we are going to go back to the drachma (the national pre-euro currency) or not. Questions that, tapping into my guilt-ridden nature (courtesy of my Greek Orthodox upbringing), make me feel terribly inadequate  since my answer to all of  them is “I do not know.” I cannot but berate myself: What kind of Greek am I that I don’t know! But really, should I know? Should I have thought of a solution for the crisis and call up our prime minister? Should I magically transform into a modern day Cassandra and warn the citizens of my country: “Beware of the Germans bearing gifts?” Believe it or not, it takes time to overcome the guilt and forgive myself. I just don’t know what went wrong. And that is not because I do not care to find out or because I am away from home. Greek citizens living in Greece do not know either. My hardworking farmer dad who has been working in the fields since he was twenty years old and now, along with the rest of Greek citizens, has to bear the burden of extravagant taxation, does not know what went wrong. And neither does my grandfather, who also worked as a farmer his entire life, fought for his country in wwii, and now, at the age of 92, has to watch his already measly pension of 500 euros (~600 dollars) get cut in half. Greek citizens are not economists, but even if we were it does not look like we would know for sure what went wrong in Greece or in the rest of the European countries that are in trouble. Economists are theorizing left and right, but I have yet to read a solid explanation of how it is possible that a country the size of Louisiana and with half the population of nyc brought the once almighty European Union to its knees. Maybe I am looking for the answers in the wrong places. Something tells me, however, that the crisis in Europe is bigger than Greece’s—or Italy’s or Spain’s or Portugal’s etc.—financial missteps, but this could be the subject of another very long article in itself.

I miss the days when, once I told someone I am from Greece, they would ask me which island I am from—most people think of Greece being like Hawaii or Japan. Back then, my only duty as a proud Greek was  to tell them that Greece is not just the islands, that it has a beautiful mainland, and to talk to them about Delphi, Epidaurus, Olympia, and my snow-covered village in the mountains of Korinthia. I miss the days when I would only talk about how hospitable, accepting, and open-minded Greeks are. I miss the days when I could tell people about how democracy was born in Greece and how Greeks valiantly fought throughout history to defend it. I miss the days when I did not have to defend the fact that the citizens of my country, misled by corrupt politicians and fear, voted the far-right joke of a political party that is Golden Dawn into the parliament. I miss the days when articles or posts referring to Greece were talking about its beautiful beaches, its magnificent antiquities, and its proud and loving citizens.

So when I saw an article, accompanied by a picture of the face of an ancient Greek statue on page 14 of the “Review” section of The Wall Street Journal this past Saturday, I instantly had my guard up and started reading with apprehension, only to be pleasantly surprised. The article was talking about Mr. Josh Garrick, a Florida artist who is going to be the first American, and one of the very few non-Greek artists, who will exhibit his work at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The exhibit, titled “Seeking the Greek Kallos,” (kallos is the ancient Greek word for beauty) will start in September and end in January 2014. It will feature 95 black-and-white pictures of statues and landmark places from ancient Greece. With his pictures, Mr. Garrick aims to create a new way of seeing the beauty in these statues and landscapes. The exhibit will be split into four themes and the artwork will be shown among the museum’s permanent collection. The goal is to allow the observer to see the beauty of ancient Greece from a different angle and feel the living and breathing creatures that the ancient sculptors captured with their skillful chisels on the Pentelic marble.  To achieve his goal, Mr. Garrick’s pictures have been taken from unusual angles, printed on large sheets of brushed aluminum, and they often have been blown up to exaggerate the features of statues. One of his works shown in the exhibit is almost eight feet tall.

Reading the article left me grateful to the artist for his devotion to ancient Greek art, but it also left me quite intrigued. Who was this passionate Philhellene (Φιλέλληνας = he who loves everything Greek), this modern-day Lord Byron?

Evidently Mr. Garrick is a fine art photographer, curator, lecturer and fund-raiser as well as an arts leader in Central Florida. He is also an accomplished writer with a portfolio of by-line articles for a variety of publications.

Mr. Garrick obtained his Bachelor of Arts from the Shippensburg State University, Pennsylvania, where he graduated with double honors, and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University, New York. He started out in his career as an assistant to Sir Rudolf Bing at the Metropolitan Opera, and he eventually become a professor and the spokesperson for the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

The artist travelled to Greece for the first time after completing his education. As a member of the School of Visual Arts here in nyc, the artist has led 15 student trips to Greece. He has also visited the country more than 25 times on his own. During his trips he has been granted access to the Parthenon and the Propylea on the Acropolis of Athens to photograph these architectural classics from the scaffolding that has been placed there during their ongoing restoration by the Greek Ephorate of Antiquities. This unprecedented opportunity has allowed the artist to view these monuments in a way that they have never been seen before, and with his pictures he has shared this view with the world.

Mr. Garrick has devoted his life to serving the fine arts not only with his own work as an artist, but also as a spokesperson. He has served on funding panels including the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and he has testified before Congress on behalf of the arts for the Congressional Subcommittee on Human Services. His “lifelong obsession,” as he himself calls his fascination with Greece and everything Greek, does not stem from his ancestry. He was born and raised in  rural Pennsylvania and he has no Greek heritage as many people assume, given the fact that it is not that often that someone who is not Greek identifies so much with the Greek culture and the essence of ancient Greece. On his website, the artist attributes his obsession to “ … immeasurable respect for that country–at a time filled with mankind’s greatest achievements.” And he continues: “We may thank Classical Greece for what we understand to be art, history, theatre, philosophy, judgment and ‘taste’–all introduced to the world by the concentrated genius of that place and time.”

To get a taste of his breathtaking photography, you can visit the artist’s website at http://www.joshgarrick.com/. On his site, you also have the opportunity to make a personal contribution to support his exhibit and help him make art history. You can also follow Mr. Garrick on Twitter @JoshGarrickART.

As for me, who always visits the Museum in Athens when I am home, in Mr. Garrick’s exhibit I found another motive to visit home before the end of the year—as if I needed one.

September 2013

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