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by Archaeology Newsroom

1950 – 1980: The Modernization of Neohellenic Art and the Great Disputes

The modernization of Neohellenic art was realized through some characteristic disputes, aesthetic and ideological ones. The best known of these arguments dates back from the years between the two World Wars. Those in favour of the modern tendencies of European art and the defenders of a “return to the roots” were oppossed to the at that time prevailing super-conservative academism. The conflict between these two anti-academic trends, “Modernism” and “Hellenic Tradition”, was the first and most lasting dispute, which played a major role in the formation of the unique physiognomy of Neoheilenic art. After World War II, the phenomenon of abstract art served as the pretext for a new debate, especially important for the modernization of Neohellenic art, since it represented a decisive step towards the autonomy of the work of art, according to the commands of modern European art. Abstract art met the strong reaction of the conservative followers of the classicizing naturalism, of those favouring the “Neohellenic Tradition” movement, as well as of the intellectuals of the Left. In many cases the arguments of the opponents were more of an ideological than of an aesthetic nature. This dispute offered to the Greek artists an opportunity, regardless of the side they belonged to, to define their aesthetic and ideologic identity and their mutual relations. The post-war version of abstract painting was finally established around 1960 by the new generation of artists who were educated and had started a career abroad. At the same time the modernistic conception, regarding the evolution of artiste forms as an indication of progress, was set up. According to this principle abstract art was soon left behind and fresh tendencies appeared already by the middle of the 1960’s. The new trends of the period were accompanied by radical ideas as regards the questioning of the established views and the revision of the role of art in the contemporary alienated reality. They were sharing a common, iconoclastic attitude which was tending to the abolishment of the very existence of the work of art in its old context. The adoption of these proposals by some Greek artists was the pretext for the iconoclastic controversy, in which the following factors were going to play the leading roles: the political coincidence as framework of the dispute (before, during and after dictatorship); the Neohellenic updated modernism as prevailing aesthetic view; and the internationalism of avant-gard of the 1960’s as challenge. The iconoclastic avant-gard of the 1960’s was assimilated by the Neohellenic art as one more phase of evolution, which follows abstract art and it is introduced through the normal procedure, but with less delay. Modernization has thus been realized. The next step should be the total accession of Neohellenic art into the international artistic space. This became the fundamental problem of the iconoclastic controversy, which could also be called “debate of the unrealized internationalization”. On the one hand, the Greek art market was showing expanding tendencies and the role of the Greek artists abroad was becoming more and more important. And on the other, the strong local peculiarities were still preventing the full accession of Greek art into the international artistic scene. The final solution to such problems was given during the 1980’s, when the long period of aesthetic disputes came to an end. Under the new circumstances and due to the eclecticism of the contemporary market, conservatism and the local peculiarities of Greek art were unable to restrain its internationalization, as regards, at least, the stylistic choices of the artists. The disputes of the past left the Greek art with a rich inheritance, a history, which was continued by the younger artists, according to the most traditional characteristic of Neohellenic civilization: every attempt for rupture is finally transformed to a fertile continuity.