For those unable to fork out for a flight to the recently opened Athens segment of Documenta 14, certain lessons of life in those distant lands can be gleaned through “Fracture,” an exhibition in New York by the Greek artist Dimitrios Antonitsis. Running through April 27 as the inaugural offering at the new Roodgallery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the show is a sparse series of gouache-on-paper works and metallic sculptures that take the recent state of Greek crisis as a cue.
In 2010, Greece found itself spiraling financially downward following the 2008 Wall Street crash and years of underreported national deficit figures. In turn, this lead to a massive bailout of the Greek economy, along with a series of strict austerity conditions imposed by lenders. The euro currency soon settled thanks to the intervention, while Greece itself fared less well. The country’s economy has contracted by a quarter from 2011 to 2016, and unemployment has grown to over 20 percent.
“You have to turn inwards,” Antonitsis said one recent morning while in New York for his opening, referring to how Greeks have learned to cope with the turmoil of recent years. He motioned toward some of the results of his own introspection: delicate sculpted forms—of a rickety chair, a cracked pot, and a wispy vine branch—that belie a sturdy spirit.
Take the chair, a replica of a century-old one crafted by a shepherd from Crete: if not for its metallic sheen, the sculpture, in a fashion shared with all the others, would appear nearly identical to its original form, right down to the tiniest dents and cracks. Antonitsis achieved the effect by covering his forms in the malleable, detail-oriented plastic used by dentists to mold dentures. From there he cast each molded form in titanium and aluminum for a finished artwork. The result is a meticulous petrified artifact.
The process, Dimitrios explained, serves as a meditation on the “wear and tear of time.” The chair, pot, and branch represent objects seen and used in everyday life. Dimitrios summons these symbols, along with gouache renders of Chinese “philosopher’s stones,” through what he calls a “choreography of gestures.”
“When the world is comfortable, you don’t think about things like this,” said Antonitsis, who found that when social circumstances turned tough, he came to appreciate the poetry of simplicity. “Objects that are easy to neglect or not to see, this is what people can rethink and become more sensitive to having around them,” he said. “Nature always gives us an alternative somehow.”
With the collapse of the economy in Greece, Antonitsis explained, “nobody buys art” anymore. Yet young artists continue to produce work and engage in different dialogues. “I think it’s a great moment,” Antonitsis said—“not an all-positive moment, but definitely interesting.” He paused when asked to formulate the lesson he learned from the financial downturn in Greece. “The trick I’ve learned,” he said, “is that you don’t need a lot of money to make good art.”