Agnese Udinotti

Agnese Udinotti

1940 -


The Italian-born sculptor, painter, poet and collector Agni Oudinotti was born in January 1940 in Athens and her family moved to Volos due to the war, while she spent the first years in Portaria of Pelion to avoid the bombings in Volos. Her brother was the actor Alekos Oudinotis (1935-2020), lead of the Art Theater and State Theater of Northern Greece, with a significant presence in Greek cinema, in films directed by Theodoros Angelopoulos (The View of Odysseus, An Eternity and a Day), Panteli Voulgari (Anna’s Matchmaking, Quiet Days of August) and others. Her father Panos Oudinotti (1911-1944) was murdered during the civil war of December 1944, known as the “December riots”, as he was unfairly considered a collaborator of the Italian invaders, mainly because of his Italian citizenship, in an act of blind revenge, or confusion, since her uncle and her grandfather were indeed attributed to collaboration with the conqueror, but they managed to escape from their pursuers, unlike him who refused to hide – apparently sure of his innocence – in any case it is another tragic loss during an absurd era. The fictional reference that the artist’s Italian grandfather was descended from Napoleon Bonaparte’s bravest commander-in-chief, Nicolas-Charles Oudinot (1767-1847), who, thanks to his alleged failed attempt to dethrone Napoleon in 1815, left to Italy and changed his name to Udinotti- it is said to be inaccurate as Oudinot never betrayed his loyalty to Bonaparte and remained until the end of his life in Paris. It is an undeniable fact that her father’s parents were among those who escaped unscathed from the Smyrna Disaster, and the decision of her family to move to Greece was due to the nostalgia of her Italian grandfather’s Greek wife. The artist had an extremely introverted childhood, as her abusive stepfather never had a healthy relationship with her and her two siblings; she used to find refuge in books and her piano, she was also an excellent student. When she came of age, she left to study in Frankfurt, with the aim of becoming a scientist. Soon she discovered her inclination to art and the utopian dream of America convinced her to make the great transatlantic trip: “it was a quest for Paradise”, she would emphasize later. Arriving in the USA, penniless, and with the help of some relatives in Chicago, she finally made it to the University of Arizona in 1959, where she was accepted, to complete her BA in 1962, and to graduate with a MA from the same University in 1963.

For her work, she was awarded during her studies- initially for oil paintings and afterwards for sculptures, while she continuously participated in exhibitions, mainly in Arizona, but also in Greece. As early as 1964 she would convert a barn in Scottsdale, Arizona into her workshop and gallery. The Udinotti Gallery, which still operates today, began its operations in 1971. The same year Udinotti received the first prize for sculpture for her participation in the competition that took place in Athens for artists under 40, with topic the Hymn to Freedom by Dionysios Solomos, following the initiative and sponsorship of the architect of the Diaspora Panos N. Tzelepis (1894-1976), and in memory of the eminent technocritic, editor and gallerist of Diaspora Christian Zervos (1889-1970). In the meantime, she had already exhibited her work individually at the Hellenic American Union (1968) and at 1969 in an art gallery in which she would exhibit several times, named Nees Morfes (1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1985, 1988, 1992, 1995, 2000). In 1973 she participates in the 12th “Panhellenic Art Exhibition” in Zappeion where her work stands out. In 1976 she received an honorary award from the Association of Greek Artists in Athens. In that decade she will also exhibit her work several times in Amsterdam and the Balans Gallery (1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978). In 1977 she exhibited at the French Institute in Thessaloniki, in 1980 at the “Panselinos” Art Center in the same city, and in 1984 at the “Epsilon Mi” Art Gallery in Volos. In 1979 she was awarded and represented the Greek Artists at the Unesco exhibition in Paris and London. In 1989, a retrospective exhibition is organized for the 25 years of her work by the Sculptors’ Association in Athens. In addition to dozens of presentations of her work in Arizona, she will also exhibit in California (1969, 1971, 1973, 1979, 1980, 1988), New York (1976, 1978, 1979, 1981), and other States, as well as outside of USA: in Toronto (1969, 1971), at the National Museum of Anthropology in Oaxaca, Mexico (1978), in El Salvador (1978), in Munich (1980), in Vienna (1985), in Tokyo (1998), and in many other places (such as London, Zurich, Stuttgart). During the period of 1984-1987 she was editor of the poetry magazine Chimera. In 2008 she founded the Udinotti Museum of Figurative Art in Arizona, as she wanted to enrich the art institutions. She stated that there is no institution that specifically studies and exhibits the art of the human form. The Museum’s collection covers a wide spectrum, such as African art, Japanese engravings and ancient Egyptian medallions, numbering around 3000 artworks. Works by Udinotti can be found in numerous collections, galleries and museums, institutions and public buildings, as well as in public space, mainly in the USA. Her art materials are mainly oil in painting and iron in sculpture, but constantly experiments with various materials (constructions, plaster, bronze with color, etc.).

Her work is characterized by her occupation with the human form, although it is often technically classified as abstract art, due to its strong abstract tendency. As Chrysanthos Christou has pointed out, Oudinotti creates series of works, where “expressionistic elements and surrealistic characteristics, miniature types and abstract formulations” dominate, with a purely personal morphoplastic idiom.  As her colleague Rudy Turk has observed, in the 1960s her works are more emotional, with an emphasis on the fundamental figurativeness of the human form, emphasizing mainly the head and face, while in the following decade she turns to complex or simple metal sculpture, and in the 1980s even in multimedia works, always maintaining “the same elegance in technical presentation and a mysterious ambiguity in form”.

Her figures are reminiscent of fantasy creatures that have not yet found their definitive form, offering the possibility of multiple interpretations by erasing the contours; she prefers the winged forms, making bold choices, with androgynous forms. The titles of her series indicate her preference for a romantic research of classical themes, while they leave a paradoxical and sometimes ironic feeling to the viewer, who finds it difficult to remain uninvolved. Typical titles of her series: “Modern man – in search of himself”, “The world through the eyes of an idiot”, “Pombes”, “Angels”, “Monsters”, “Transformation of the woman”, “Shadows”, ” Funerals”, “City Pulse”, “Totems”, “Sarcophagi”, ‘Great Cube of Death’, ‘Incredible Death’, ‘Shadow Images’; many of her series of works and poems (she often inscribes her poems on her sculptures, giving even greater unity to her art) are included in the series “Memorial to my father”, whose memory has never stopped to motivate her. Udinotti succeeds with her work in creating a sense of escape and catharsis, without seeking to satisfy any particular audience. Her work has the absolute character of an expressive gesture that will either shock or leave the viewer-receiver indifferent – ​​although her message is universal. Its references are almost impossible to decipher, being deeply assimilated and complex, but could be searched  in almost the entire spectrum of art history, from the Renaissance art of Parmigianino and Pierro della Francesca, the Baroque of Bernini, the early Romanticism of Rembrandt and Goya, to art brut and primitive and archaic art, mainly due to her contact with the depths of the collective unconscious and the tireless introspection she achieves with her art, without overlooking the references to Egyptian wall paintings or the Assyrian war monuments, and of course the ancient funerary casts. At the same time, she shows affinities with the abstract expressionism movement that was already widespread in the first years of its career, mainly through the autonomous and strongly suggestive use of the color element, which, as the architect Nikos Holevas (1944-2015) has emphasized, “otherwise for reasons of balance, by itself, as a pictorial datum, it succeeds in giving the overall context to the leading figures”. Panos Karavias accurately identifies the influence of the great sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) and focuses on the existential drama expressed, even in the delicate figures that are almost absent, prompting the viewer to seek understanding (the element of absence emphasized by Jean-Paul Sartre in Giacometti’s sculpture). Her human figures are nevertheless at the same time monumental, since their connection to a universal dimension that transcends them is strongly observed, and this is perhaps the element that distinguishes her work from that of Giacometti. Eleni Vakalos will emphasize with her poetic flair for the human figures of the artist: “Their existence is based on the coherence of their movement or their attitude within the crowd. As if we are in front of an extended drama, whose action has been transferred from the heroes to the choirs.” Agni Oudinotti, is moving towards a new dominant mode of visual expression, as established by the art historian Peter Selz, promotes an anthropocentric trend of the post-war expressionism of the US West Coast, abstract expressionism, as a counterweight to more classical and already widely accepted, at least in America.  She will emphasize: “we as human beings are embodiments of emotions, intellect and all kinds of senses and sensitivities”. This complex sum that constitutes man seeks to express persistently in her art, not hesitating to confront even its most dystopian depictions, she projects a type of art that is committed to serving universal values ​​and confronts openly and fruitfully with society, without thereby losing its deep and free-to-interpret symbolic character, always emphasizing, in a romantic way, as she underlines, “the beauty of the human”.

Anestis Melidonis
Art Historian
Scientific Associate of the Hellenic Diaspora Foundation