Black Frames, detail, Jannis Varelas, 2017

published 2.22.2017

Major Painting by Jannis Varelas Commissioned for The Art Wall

As a contemporary counterpoint to the major exhibition, A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC – 200 AD, the Onassis Cultural Center New York commissioned a work by Greek-born artist Jannis Varelas. The mixed media painting has been created as a diptych and will be installed on The Art Wall in the Olympic Tower Atrium and will be on view starting March 9, 2017.

Our spring season is dedicated to the theme of emotions—how they have been represented or disguised, analyzed or repressed, in ancient and modern times, and in public and private life. Drawing from the role of society in shaping emotions, Varelas drew inspiration from a line in Plato’s Alcibiades questioning how the soul can know itself, and from the “Argonauts” section of George Seferis’s Mythistorema (1935), with its voyager who has seen “the stranger and enemy” in the mirror. On the basis of these sources, Varelas has created a two-part painting, at once representational and expressively abstract, that explores the complex, emotional interplay between self-knowledge and social roles. 

The Art Wall in the Olympic Tower Atrium is the site of large-scale artworks regularly commissioned by the Onassis Cultural Center New York in conjunction with the themes of its exhibitions and programs. Previous installations on The Art Wall have included the video My Half of the Sky, My Half of the Earth by Maria Zervos (2016) and the sculptural tapestry Repoussoir for a New Perspective by Alexandra Kehayoglou (2016).

Amalia Cosmetatou, Executive Director and Cultural Director of the Onassis Foundation USA, said, “One of our goals this spring is to prompt questions about the role of emotions as a force in history—whether in the ancient world, which can seem both strangely familiar and strikingly different to us, or in our society today. It is in this context that we have commissioned this ambitious work by Jannis Varelas. In its evocations of emotional experience, and its allusions to philosophical and poetic reflections on the emotions, Black Frames offers a fascinating contrast to the ancient masterworks on view in our gallery for A World of Emotions.

About Jannis Varelas

Jannis Varelas (b. 1977) lives and works in Athens, Vienna, and Los Angeles. He received his BA from the Athens School of Fine Arts and his MFA in 2006 from the Royal College of Art, London. His work has been shown in institutions including the DESTE Foundation, Athens; New Benaki Museum, Athens; the First Athens Biennial; Prospect 1, the first international art biennial in New Orleans; the Cairo Biennial; the New Museum, New York; the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Kunsthalle Wien; and the Saatchi Gallery, London. Selected solo exhibitions include New Flags for a New Country/Destroying Elvis, Onassis Cultural Center, Athens; Sleep My Little Sheep Sleep, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; The Oblong Box, Kunsthalle Athena, Athens; Brandybell Series, Autocenter, Berlin; and solo shows at The Breeder, Athens, which represents the artist.

Visiting Hours

Beginning March 9, Jannis Varelas’s Black Frames will be on view without charge during all public hours in the Olympic Tower Atrium, 645 Fifth Avenue, at 51st Street, Monday to Sunday, 8 am to 10 pm. All exhibitions and cultural events presented by the Onassis Cultural Center New York are free of charge.