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 after 1992 in the studio she established in Neos Kosmos, Athens, Greece.

Biography

Chryssa was born in Athens into the famous Mavromichalis family from the Deep Mani. 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 throughout her teenage years and additionally studied to be a social worker. In 1953, on the advice of "a leading art critic in Greece," 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.

Mott Street (1983) by Chryssa. Vestibule of Evangelismos metro station, Athens Metro, line 3

Then at the age of 79, Chryssa died of heart-related problems, in Athens, Greece, on December 23, 2013.

Major works and milestones

1957

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.

1958

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 of this work: "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."

1961

Chryssa's first solo exhibition was mounted at The Guggenheim.

1962

Times Square Sky is a 5 ft × 5 ft (1.5 m) × 9.5 in work in neon, aluminum and steel. It is now in the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

1963

Chryssa's work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in curator Dorothy Canning Miller's Americans 1963 exhibition. The artists who were represented in the show additionally included Richard Anuszkiewicz, Lee Bontecou, Robert Indiana, Richard Lindner, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg, Ad Reinhardt, James Rosenquist, and others.

1966

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 might 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.

1967–1968

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 additionally been installed outside the Megaron Concert Hall (compare megaron) in Athens.

1972

The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a solo exhibition of works by Chryssa.

That's All (early 1970s), the central panel of a triptych related to The Gates of Times Square, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art between 1975 and 1979.

1973

Chryssa's solo exhibition at the Gallerie Denise René was reviewed for TIME magazine by art critic Robert Hughes before it went on to the Galleries Denise René in Düsseldorf and Paris.

1980

Chryssa's 70 ft (21 m) Untitled Light Sculpture, six large Ws 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.

1983

Mott Street, named for Mott Street in Chinatown, Manhattan, is a large work in dark aluminium and red-toned neon light which is installed in the Evangelismos station of the Athens Metro.

Other works by Chryssa in composite honeycomb aluminum and neon in the 1980s and 1990s include Chinatown, Siren, Urban Traffic, and Flapping Birds.

1990

Chryssa 60/90 retrospective exhibition in Athens in the Mihalarias Art Center. After her long absence from Greece, a major exhibition including large aluminium sculptures - cityscapes, "neon boxes" from the Gates to the Times Square, paintings, drawings etc. was held in Athens.

1992

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 centre 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.

2005

Chryssa presents her paintings at the Mihalarias Art Center.

Monographs

A partial listing of monographs on Chryssa's work:

Exhibitions and collections

Partial listings of exhibitions and institutions with works by Chryssa in permanent collections:

Solo exhibitions

Group exhibitions

Collections

Additional exhibitions and collections are listed by the Artforum Culture Foundation, AskART.com, and additional sources.