George Kokines: Layers Revealed - National Hellenic Museum

The National Hellenic Museum will be closed to the public from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM on Friday, June 16 due to a private event.




In September 2018, the National Hellenic Museum opened the first ever retrospective and largest exhibition of the artist George Kokines (1930-2012). Using loaned objects and those from the NHM Collections, this exhibition traces Kokines’ artistic development and accomplishments in Abstract Expressionism as well as his journey to embrace his Greek American identity.

Kokines’ art employed free-form organic and geometrical forms, abstract figures, and intense spaces of color. He inserted humor, references to Greek mythology and his life experiences into his work. When working with nontraditional materials like wax, plaster, and concrete, Kokines often carved through the layers he had built up on the surface. He was known to rework older pieces many times over. Palimpsest — something altered that bears visible traces of its previous form — was a concept that is apparent in much of Kokines’ work.

In 1993, Kokines traveled through Greece, making stops at his parents’ hometowns on a trip that allowed him to connect his history and artwork to ancient Greece. Later in his life, Kokines was deeply impacted when he witnessed the events of September 11, 2001 first hand, watching as the World Trade Center fell. The largest installation of his career, September 11, was created in remembrance of the day and is exhibited. The installation includes the paintings Ground Zero, The Sky Above, and Agios Nikolaos, representing the small Greek Orthodox church that also stood at Ground Zero.

Kokines was born in 1930 in Chicago to Greek immigrant parents. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a BFA in 1960. Early in his career he received critical acclaim and was a prominent figure in the Chicago art community. Once the subject of controversy, he said, “All contemporary painting should defy description.” In 1966, he moved to New York where he lived and worked for nearly 40 years. In 2005, he returned to Chicago and continued to paint until he passed away in 2012. Kokines’ work was exhibited in galleries and museums nationally and internationally, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum, the Richard Gray Gallery, the Centro Cultural Borges in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Palazzo Massari in Ferrara, Italy.

The works in this exhibition exemplify Kokines’ improvisation and the textural and large-scale style of his work. Demonstrating his mastery of abstraction, this exhibition reveals the brilliance and skill of George Kokines. Related educational programming, docent-led tours and field trips for school children are being offered throughout the course of the exhibition.

George Kokines: Layers Revealed is presented as part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art exploring Chicago’s art and design legacy, with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.


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