Vlassis Caniaris

Vlassis Caniaris

1928 - 2011


Vlassis Caniaris was born in Athens in 1928. In 1946, he enrolled in Medical School at the University of Athens. During his studies, he was an apprentice of Yannis Tsarouchis. In 1950, he dropped out of the Medical School and began his studies at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Yannis Moralis, Yannis Pappas and Umberto Argyros, while continuing his work as an assistant to Yannis Tsarouchis and creating sets and costumes for theater plays and movies such as Stella (1953) by Michael Cacoyannis. In 1953, he married Maria Lina and, in 1955, he completed his studies at the School of Fine Arts and moved with his wife to Rome where he remained until the late 1960s. During this period, he explored Italy and Paris and attended stage design and painting courses at the School of Fine Arts in Rome and workshops of fresco at the San Giacoppo School. His first solo exhibition was organized at the Zygos gallery in Athens in 1958 and the catalog’s preface was written by J. Recupero; it is considered the first exhibition of abstract painting in Athens. In 1958-1959, he formed the artists’ group Gruppo Sigma along with Dimitris Kondos, Costas Tsoclis and Nikos Kessanlis. Since 1959, he began working on the series Walls, which was inspired by the public spaces of Athens during the Occupation by the Axis Powers; these were exhibited at the gallery La Tartaruga, one of Rome's most important exhibition spaces. In 1960, he moved to France and met art critic Pierre Restany and the Nouveau Réalistes circle. Until 1962, he had participated in exhibitions in London, Munich, Brussels, Athens and Thessaloniki and had begun to shift his interest from the canvas by focusing on lattice metal constructions on which he fastened plastered papers or cloths. In 1964, he presented his evolved work at the Galerie J in Paris and as part of the exhibition Three Proposals for a New Greek Sculpture by Pierre Restany at the theater La Fenice, in parallel with the Venice Biennale. In the latter, together with artists Nikos Kessanlis and Daniel Panagopoulos, he transformed the space of the room into a social, interactive and theatrical space by presenting his first environment made of wires and objects covered with everyday mass-produced materials that resembled sculptural forms. In 1966, he returned to Greece and, in 1967, he participated in two exhibitions at the Prado del’ Ateneo gallery in Madrid and at the Rath Museum in Geneva. In both cases, his works were censored due to their subversive character. Three years later, he exhibited at the New Gallery of Athens with works from the period 1968-1969 that belonged to the series Plasters which were directly linked to the period of the Greek Military Junta during which he was a member of the organization “Democratic Defense”. His artworks included plastered forms with metal frame, plastered arms, barbed wires with plaster plates, etc., accompanied by red carnations. In 1969, he returned to Paris with his family and, in 1970, he presented the Plasters at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris after the mediation of Pierre Restany; he also participated in other exhibitions in Europe such as Kunst und Politik by Georg Bussmann, which toured in Germany. A year later, his retrospective was held at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Caniaris started working on a new body of work, the Immigrants, which included mannequins dressed in worn-out clothes, along with items from the daily routine of immigrants. This body of work was completed with the support of the DAAD scholarship and was presented at many West German museums as part of the Gastarbeiter—Fremdarbeiter touring exhibition (1975-1976), as well as at Documenta 6 (1977) in Kassel and at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1976) in London. In 1980, he presented the in situ environment Hélas-Hellas (The painter and his model) at the abandoned ice house of the Fix factory, with the support of the Bernier-Eliades gallery. In the years that followed, he held a number of exhibitions in Greece and abroad, culminating in Greece's representation at the Venice Biennale in 1988, along with Nikos Kessanlis. He passed away in Athens in 2011. Vlassis Caniaris is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished personalities in post-war art. Through his work, which is still pertinent, he not only illustrated the fluctuations of Greece's post-war history and the experience of the diaspora, but also the artistic explorations of the boundaries between painting and the real world, art and life. He worked as a painting professor at the NTUA School of Architecture for 20 years and participated in the Biennale of San Marino, the Biennale of São Paulo and in Europalia in Brussels. Retrospective exhibitions of his have been organized by the Vafopouleio Cultural Center (1991) and the State Museum of Contemporary Art (1999) in Thessaloniki, the Karl Ernst Osthaus-Museum (1991) in Hague, the Benaki Museum (2008) in Athens, with most notable being the one held at the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum (1999) in Athens; his most recent exhibition was held at the Cultural Foundation of Tinos (2016). Moreover, his works have been exhibited at art institutions such as at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel.