Exploring Chryssa & New York: A Journey into Neon, Innovation, and Art

August 23, 2023

The Menil Collection prepares to unveil its latest exhibition, "Chryssa & New York," in collaboration with the Dia Art Foundation. Scheduled to open its doors on September 29, 2023-March 10, 2024, this exhibition delves into the work of Chryssa, a Greek-born artist who left an indelible mark by integrating neon into her artistic practice. With a focus on her time in New York during the late 1950s to the early 1970s, this exhibition promises a profound exploration of her contributions and influence.

Times Square Sky, 1962
Aluminum, steel, and neon
60 × 60 × 9 1/2 in. (152.4 × 152.4 × 24.1 cm)
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, 1964

Bridging Movements Through Neon

Chryssa's unique artistic approach successfully bridged the concepts of the Pop, Conceptual, and Minimalist movements. Her groundbreaking use of neon, alongside elements borrowed from commercial signage and text, ushered in a new era of artistic expression. Her impact is palpable, and "Chryssa & New York" shines a spotlight on her achievements while examining how she contributed to these influential movements.

Automat, 1971
Neon and plaster
37 × 29 × 6 3/4 in. (94 × 73.7 × 17.1 cm) Abrams Family Collection

A Collaboration of Institutions

Co-organized by The Menil Collection and the Dia Art Foundation, this exhibition represents a shared commitment to artists who emerged during the 1960s and '70s. This partnership builds upon previous collaborations on exhibitions featuring the likes of Joseph Beuys, Brice Marden, and Blinky Palermo. "Chryssa & New York" continues this legacy by presenting an in-depth study of Chryssa's works, highlighting her unique artistic journey.

Americanoom, 1963
Aluminum, steel, stainless steel, and neon
90 × 108 in. (228.6 × 274.3 cm)
Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Aron B. Katz

Reclaiming a Visionary Artist

Chryssa's work, though celebrated in its time, has become a rarity on the contemporary art scene. This exhibition intends to reintroduce her artistic brilliance to the public. Her use of neon and industrial processes in sculpture, combined with her exploration of abstraction, language, and technical innovation, solidify her place as a visionary artist ahead of her time.

The Gates to Times Square, 1964-1966
Welded stainless steel, neon, and plexiglass
120 × 120 × 120 in. (304.8 × 304.8 × 304.8 cm)
Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. List, 1972

Magnum Opus in Focus

At the heart of the exhibition lies Chryssa's magnum opus, "The Gates to Times Square" (1964–66). This monumental work, a towering interplay of neon, plexiglass, and metal, pays homage to the dazzling lights and signage of New York's iconic Times Square. Restored for this presentation, the piece captures the essence of the city that inspired it, offering visitors a glimpse into Chryssa's artistic vision.

Chryssa, Cycladic Book No. 5, 1955. Terracotta, plaster, and paint, 12 × 9 1/8 × 2 1/4 in. (30.5 × 23.2 × 5.7 cm). The Menil Collection, Houston. © The Estate of Chryssa, National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens. Photo: Paul Hester

Artistic Evolution: Process Unveiled

The exhibition showcases not only the finished masterpieces but also the journey behind them. Transitional works that combine metal and neon, as well as examples of Chryssa's studies for "The Gates," provide an intimate look into her artistic evolution. This immersive experience enables viewers to witness her process and the evolution of her ideas.

Newspaper Portfolio, 1962
Silkscreen prints on coated cotton vellum, 22 parts Sheet (each): 34 1/4 × 24 in. (87 × 61 cm) Collection Irene Panagopoulos

Exploring Early Inspirations

Among the exhibited works are Chryssa's reductive "Cycladic Books" (1954–57). These plaster and clay reliefs reveal her fascination with the interplay of light and shadow. Drawing from both commercial culture and historic Mediterranean art, this series demonstrates her ability to blend modernity with timeless influences. Additionally, her connection with John and Dominique de Menil, early supporters of her work, is highlighted through the connection between the Cycladic Books and their collection of ancient sculptures.

Chryssa, Study on Light, 1962. Aluminum and paint, 36 × 38 × 3 1/4 in. (91.4 × 96.5 × 8.3 cm). The Menil Collection, Houston. © The Estate of Chryssa, National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens. Photo: Paul Hester

Preserving the Urban Pulse

Chryssa's time in New York inspired her to capture the vibrant energy of the city, particularly the bustling hub of Times Square. Her art, which incorporated discarded newspaper printing plates, signs, and other urban fragments, captures the essence of the postwar urban environment. Her work serves as an early testament to the power of commercial communication as an art form.

Newspaper, ca. 1962
Transfer print and pencil on canvas
104 1/2 × 120 1/2 × 1 in. (265.4 × 306.1 × 2.5 cm) The Menil Collection, Houston

Collaborative Endeavor and National Display

"Chryssa & New York" is a collaborative effort that brings together major works from several American museum collections. Demonstrating the deep impact of her art during the 1960s and '70s, the exhibition underscores the significance of her contributions to American institutions. Thanks to extensive collaboration with lenders, many of these pieces are being showcased after years of obscurity.

A Rich Accompaniment

Complementing the exhibition is a comprehensive publication, marking the first major documentation of Chryssa's work in over three decades. Edited by Sophia Larigakis, Megan Holly Witko, and Michelle White, the publication delves into Chryssa's legacy, featuring insights from curators, scholars, and experts. This publication cements Chryssa's influence in the realm of contemporary art.

"Chryssa & New York" promises a thought-provoking exploration of an artist whose impact was both immediate and long-lasting. By shining a light on Chryssa's innovative use of neon, her exploration of language and abstraction, and her deep connection with the urban environment, this exhibition brings her back into the spotlight she rightfully deserves. As it makes its journey from Houston to Chicago, this exhibition invites audiences to reflect on the intersection of art, innovation, and urban life that defines Chryssa's remarkable legacy.