George Zongolopoulos

George Zongolopoulos



The sculptor, painter and self-taught architect Giorgos Zongolopoulos, originated from the village of Manna (formerly Markasi) in mountains of Corinthia, was born in Metaxourgeio, in the center of Athens, in September 1901 (the year of birth is also mentioned to be 1903, a date that is negated by his relatives, but also from the year of the start of his military service, which was 1918). In 1910 his father died. After the end of his military service in 1923, with the Treaty of Lausanne, he began his studies at the current ASKT, then the “School of Arts”, with the sculptor and academic Thomas Thomopoulos (1873-1937) as a professor. At the School he would be expelled twice, for disciplinary reasons, as he was a part of a group with renewal requests that did not fit the academic ideas of the School at that time and always maintained the courage of his opinion. In his second “indefinite” expulsion, the intervention of the poet Ioannis Gryparis (1870-1942), as Director of Sciences and Arts of the Ministry of Education at the time, would be needed to enable him to complete his studies and graduate in 1930. His specialty field was the field of sculpture and he will complete his studies in 1936, receiving his degree from the renamed school -since 1930- High School of Fine Arts. He considered his acquaintance with his “company” whose central initiator was Dimitris Pikionis (1887-1968), with the participation of Spyros Papaloukas (1882-1957), Patroklos Karatinou (1903-1976), Nikolaos Mitsakis (1899-1941), Antonio Sochos (1888-1975), Costas Biri (1899-1980) as well as Fotis Kontoglou (1895-1965) and to a lesser extent N. Hatzikyriakos-Ghikas (1906- 1994) and others more important than his studies. His admiration for Kostis Parthenis (1878-1967) was also an important element in his artistic development. He participated in several groups of artists (SEK, Omas Techni 1930, Stathmi, Tomi, Group for Communication and Education in Art).

Ίδρυμα Γεωργίου Ζογγολόπουλου
George Zongolopoulos Foundation

In 1932 he met the painter Eleni Paschalidou – Zongolopoulou (Elena Zong) (1909-1993), and they got married in 1936. During the period 1930-38 he designed dozens of schools throughout the territory, as an architect in the Office of School Building Studies of the Ministry of Education. Previously, he worked in the Department of Restoration of Ancient and Byzantine Monuments of the Ministry of Education (1926-27), where he had a fruitful collaboration with Anastasios Orlandos (1887-1979) designing many churches – although not without arguments. During 1926-27 he worked in the Department of Restoration of Ancient and Byzantine Monuments of the Ministry of Education, where he had a fruitful collaboration – although not without disagreements – with Anastasios Orlandos (1887-1979), designing many churches. In 1934, during the mayorship of Spyros Merkouris, he participated in the creation of the “nine Muses”, statues that would decorate Omonia square, until their removal in 1937. In 1934, he designed the bust of Andreas Miaoulis, which was located at “Leoforos Iroon 1821” at the “Pedion of Areos”. The same year, he visits the Paris International Exhibition and is artistically ecstatic by the Spanish booth, where artworks by the sculptor Alexander Calder (1878-1976), his fellow artist Julio González (1876-1942), and especially the masterpiece of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Guernica, are exhibited. In Paris he will also meet the sculptor Charles Despiau (1874-1946). From 1938, following the advice of his wife, he will devote himself to sculpture, participating in the “Panhelleniums” of 1938 and 1939, but also in the 22nd Venice Biennale in 1940, with four busts. During the German occupation, he will remain in Athens, where he will meet with the sculptor Thanasis Aparti (1899-1972). After the Second World War, in 1947, he will build his house at the area of Paleo Psychiko, where today the Georgios Zongolopoulos Foundation is locates and important figures of Modern Greek art and intellectuals are hosted, such as Errikos Franziskakis (1908-1958), Yiannis Moralis (1916-2009), Nikos Nikolaou (1909-1986), Linos Politis (1906-1982) and others.

Το ατελιέ του Γιώργου Ζογγολόπουλου στο Ψυχικό
The studio of George Zongolopoulos in Psychiko

In 1948, he created the “Monument of the Fallen of the Municipality of Keratsini’’, a supernatural marble statue, was contracted, with Ariadni Xenakis Chrysonopoulou (1924-2015) – wife of Kosmas Xenakis (1925-1984) and favorite model of many famous Greek artists – being his model. The same year, he held his first solo exhibition at the “Zachariou” Gallery in Athens and according to Manolis Hatzidakis, “he definitively and victoriously entered the period of maturity”. In 1949, he will go to Paris for nine months, as a scholarship of the French government, studying with the sculptor Marcel Gimond (1894-1961), where he will also meet the famous sculptor Henri Laurens (1885-1954). In 1952, in collaboration with the sculptor Achilleas Apergis (1909-1986), he was awarded in a competition for the “Monument of the Fallen” in Itea. In 1953 he moved to Italy with a state scholarship, where he studied the techniques of copper casting. There he will visit the cities of Rome, Florence, Pistoia and Milan. Important for his gradual and definitive turn to abstraction is his acquaintance mainly with the work of Marino Marini (1901-1980)- he recognizes his archaic bases in Etruscan art- but also of Giacomo Manzou (1908-1991), Arnaldo Pomodoro (1926). In 1956, the “Monument of the Fallen of Kokkinia” was placed at Osias Xeni Square, one of the first sculptures in the public space of Greece with reference to the Resistance and one of the most perfect from an aesthetic point of view. In the same year, he participates in the 28th Biennale, with the Dramatic Composition, along with Ah. Apergi, Clearchos Loukopoulos (1906-1995), Nikos Perantinos (1910-1991) and Michalis Tombros (1889-1974). In 1957 he participated in the Sao Paulo Biennale with Costas Koulendianos (1918-1995), where he presented an abstract version of Poseidon. In 1958-60 he will undertake the design of Omonia square with fountains and the sculpture with the abstract Poseidon along with the architect Constantinos Bizio. The sculpture eventually will not be placed, but many decades later (2014) it will be placed at George Washington University in the US. In 1960, the “Monument of Zalongos” will be erected, on the slope of the Pindos Mountain, a monument that he had already designed since 1953 in Florence, in collaboration with Patr. Karantinou. In 1962 he will present his works in a solo exhibition at the Athenian Technological Institute of the Doxiadis Schools in Athens, as well as at the “Art” Hall in Thessaloniki. In 1964, he participates for the 3rd time in the 32nd Venice Biennale, this time, along with K. Koulendianos, Spyros Vassiliou (1903-1985) and Nikos Nikolaou (1909-1986), where he presents the sculpture “The Delphians”. The commissioner of the Biennale Tonis Spiteris will emphasize in Zongolopoulos “a strong interest in exploring the extensions of the dimension”. In 1966, the monumental abstract sculpture of “Victory of Samothrace” made of cor-ten metal is erected at the entrance of the International Exhibition of Thessaloniki, perhaps the first monumental abstract sculpture in a public space in Greece, which will cause strong reactions, with Manolis Andronikos (1919 -1992), Dimitris Fatouro (1928-2020) and Patr. Karantino to defend the project. M. Andronikos will underline that “in our time the most important sculptural monuments are no longer virtual”. In 1971 he presents the exhibition “Kinetic Art” at the Hellenic-American Union of Athens, where according to Emmanuel Mavrommatis “he presented an entirely new aspect of his genius with “kinetic” works that show a very youthful appreciation of the possibilities of light and moving surfaces, and extraordinary ingenuity.” In 1976 he presented his “Lenses” in Campo Pisani, Venice, alongside the Biennale of the same year. During 1977-79 he will present individual exhibitions at the Warsaw Zacheta Museum, the Budavári Palota Museum in Budapest, and the Zoumboulakis Gallery in Athens. In 1981 he designed the Gorgopotamou National Resistance Monument with Alexandros Tombazis (1939), which was never erected. In 1984 he presented a solo exhibition at the Goethe Institute in Athens. In 1986 he presents the exhibition “Memories-Revivals-Searches” at the Athens Art Gallery. In 1989, his hydrokinetic sculpture “Stainless Steel Shield” was permanently installed in the European Cultural Center of Delphi. In 1990 he exhibited his famous “Umbrellas” at the “Jean Brenier” Gallery. In 1990 he received the first prize for the Monument of the Battle of Crete in Maleme in the Prefecture of Chania, but the work was not installed. In 1993 he individually represents Greece in his fourth participation in the 45th Venice Biennale. In 1995 his work was installed in the UN building in Brussels and in the same year he placed a sculptural installation with his “Umbrellas” on a platform on the Grand Canal in front of the entrance to the 46th Biennale; the work will be permanently installed at the seafront of Thessaloniki in 1997. In 1998 he installed in Berlin’s Wittenberg square the work of Tel–Neant and in 1999 the work of Kolona in the central square of Weimar. In the same year he designed the “Atrium” at the Syntagma Metro Station. In 2001 he presents the work “Pentacycle” at the entrance of the 51st Venice Biennale, the work is currently located in Omonia. In 2002, the last solo exhibition at the “Astrolabos” art gallery in Athens. He died on May 11, 2004. In 2007 his monograph was published and in November 2008 his work was presented in a large retrospective exhibition at the Athens Concert Hall. The work of Zongolopoulos obviously shows through his long creative path, a characteristic expressive development, as already in the 1950s he clearly moves towards abstraction, with elements that bring him closer to the modern sculpture of the time outside the Greek borders. Chrysanthos Christou will recognize this new direction in his work from 1970 as his works “moving in the climate of photokinetic plasticity, and, more generally, of visual-kinetic art”. Alex. Xydis will also notice from 1979 his preoccupation “with hydrokinetic constructions in combination with stainless steel and with water that flows calmly or unexpectedly and spasmodically”. Among others, Denys Chevalier, Jean Starobinski, Pierre Restany have spoken in praise of his work, with the former recognizing the basis of his sculpture in “something that lasts and belongs to the past and the future”. The Greek sculptor himself emphasized: “…for my own work, what interests me is that the work breathes. When we say ‘breathes’, it could be a transparency or anything else.” Zongolopoulos succeeded in steady and persistent work that went beyond established sculptural standards – for example working more with lines than with volumes – using both his appeal to architecture and his known abilities in painting, to introduce new elements that in modern Greek sculpture, thanks mainly to his intense contact with the art of Europe and especially France, and to the renewing spirit that distinguished him and pushed him towards morphological innovation. His contribution to the new, albeit lacking official support, step of modern art in Greece towards a more abstract and dynamic expression is particularly significant. The strong contact with the concept of scale and rhythm of architectural origin, combined even with the elements of nature, which gave greater flow and scope to the work, connecting it more organically with the surrounding space and the impact it exerted reached the point where its example became standard. However, he as a genuinely creative artist, never allowed himself to be stereotyped, even when in his old age he was widely accepted with his famous “Umbrellas”, not hesitating to challenge himself and always give groundbreaking and militant proposals in the field of public and monumental sculpture.

Anestis Melidonis
Art Historian
Scientific Associate of the Hellenic Diaspora Foundation