Born in 1907, Greek by birth and histrionic character, Alexander Iolas was one of the most important art dealers and gallerists of the twentieth century. He contributed to shaping the taste and panorama of his time. He was a friend of the most important artists of the time, personifying a gallery culture based on personal relationships of trust and esteem, and was among the first to found an international network of galleries. In the seventies, he bought in Athens, in the popular district of Aghia Paraskevi, Villa Iolas, 700 square meters entirely covered with white marble, where he placed his collection of modern artworks alongside Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine and Oriental antiquities. After his death, which occurred in 1987, due to controversial succession issues, the house was sacked and the collection preserved in it dispersed. Since then Iolas was inexorably forgotten.
At least he was forgotten until last September, when Tommaso Calabro saved him from the oblivion and restored his figure to its proper value. The exhibition “Casa Iolas. Citofonare Vezzoli”, inaugurated on September 24 and open to visitors until January 16, is the second appointment in an exhibition program that aims at rediscovery of the most important gallery owners of our past, which began in 2018 with a chapter dedicated to Carlo Cardazzo. Through an in-depth research on Iolas’ exhibition activity, Tommaso Calabro Gallery wanted to pay homage to his memory and personality, proposing artists who were supported by him and recreating the atmosphere of his legendary home. Alongside antique furniture and fine carpets, over sixty masterpieces are displayed. There are paintings made by Victor Brauner, which was considered by Iolas an innovator of painting of his time, or again by Giorgio De Chirico, to whom is dedicated an entire room. The scenographic installation “Roma” (1980-81) by Eliseo Mattiacci welcomes the visitor on the entrance staircase. There are three Pino Pascali’s “Bachi da Setola”, at the time purchased by the gallery owner. There are also works by, just to name a few of them, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Max Ernst, Lucio Fontana, Paul Klee, Yves Klein, Ed Ruscha, Takis, René Magritte, Man Ray and Fausta Squatriti.
Between August 31 and September 16 a first exhibition, “Anticamera Iolas. Archival materials “, preceded the present one, showing fifty catalogs and thirty original posters printed by the Iolas Gallery for its initiatives. These materials demonstrated the merchant’s passion for publishing and the huge number of artists he collaborated with over the course of his career. Finally, Tommaso Calabro Gallery will publish a fully illustrated catalog, with an essay by Luca Massimo Barbero. The exhibition project in its entirety is serious and solid, with exceptional art works and an important vocation for historical reconstruction.
However, it’s important to remember that in the title there is an invitation to “deal Vezzoli”. Francesco Vezzoli curated the exhibition, including some of his works in the spaces of Piazza San Sepolcro and establishing a dialogue between modern and contemporary art, memory and re-enactment. His intent was to present the figure of Iolas in his complexity as an esthete, a histrionic character and an animator of his time. The intervention of the Italian artist becomes part of the exhibition in an intimate and organic way, inspired by the eclecticism of the gallerist’s choices. In his home Iolas had approached antique pieces with recent works in a bold and unhindered way. In the same way, Vezzoli blends opposing models, indiscriminately taken from high and popular culture, from the ancient world and from today’s entertainment society, to remix them together and give life to an eclectic yet plausible cosmos. As an unblemished and fearless host, he places himself on the same level as the masters of our recent history of art, presenting his own narrative about Alexander Iolas to the visitors. The setup designed by Filippo Bisagni proceeds in synchrony, combining the archive research with Vezzoli’s authorship. The soft light and the sumptuous furnishing accessories contribute to the creation of a total environment, respecting Iolas’ idea of the gallery as an “absolute theater”. The only weak point, perhaps, is the Hall of Mirrors, which is subdued compared to the others.
The exhibition proposed by Tommaso Calabro combines scientificity and theatricality, allowing the visitors to immerse themselves in an all-round story. We reserve, however, a small note. Alexander Iolas felt lucky that artists were part of his life. Many of them at the time were not yet the big names of the present day and their success was also possible thanks to his support and promotion. Tommaso Calabro has all the credentials to cope with such a figure, like that of Carlo Cardazzo or others like them. So why not show the same courage in giving support and space to emerging experimentation? Without say anything to Francesco Vezzoli, who intrigues and thrills us as only he can do, ours is an invitation to rediscover that gallery culture of virtuous patronage and investment in the present, which is lacking today.
Marta Orsola Sironi
“Villa Iolas. Please Deal Vezzoli”, third room © Riccardo Gasperoni
Eliseo Mattiacci, “Roma”, 1980-81, installation view, Villa Iolas, Athens. Photo courtesy Studio Eliseo Mattiacci
Francesco Vezzoli, “God is a woman (After Constantin Brâncuși)”, 2019, Photo: Riccardo Gasperoni