By Jonathan Shkurko
An exhibition of the work of one of Cyprus’ greatest artists is the focus of a new exhibition space that opened in Nicosia this week – the State Gallery of Contemporary art within the recently renovated SPEL building in Old Nicosia.
A three-storey building opposite the cultural hub of Famagusta Gate, the spot is both a breath of fresh air and ideally suited to house an art gallery. All three floors are flooded with light and pictures can be seen in all directions as one overlooks the other.
And first to grace the walls are the works of renowned Cypriot artist Christoforos Savva (1924-1968) in a large-scale show called Untimely on Time. Adding to the scale is the use of Italian art critic Jacopo Crivelli Visconti to curate the show, which after being on show here for two months will move to Italy as part of the 58th Venice Biennale from May to November, exactly 50 years after the artist first represented Cyprus during its first official participation.
“The exhibition will focus on the artist’s work and on his groundbreaking impact in Cyprus,” said Crivelli Visconti, who has recently been appointed curator of the 34th edition of the Bienal de São Paulo in Brazil.
“Savva’s work will be displayed in three different sections. The first will reflect his early formation years. The second will focus on his ‘Apophasis’ period, when he opened the first independent cultural centre ever in Nicosia that helped shape the intellectual life of the capital. The third section will display his late works, his most avant-garde spell.”
The exhibition includes workds from both private and public collections and includes paintings that have never been seen before by the public.
“Savva represents a focal point in Cypriot art history,” explained Visconti Crivelli. “His work can also be described as political, as he took inspiration from social issues during his time and expressed them vividly in his paintings.
“I find his work tremendously relatable to today’s world, which is still sadly dominated by social issues. He gave a voice to hundreds of young Cypriot artists who identified their ideas in his paintings and who were later inspired to express their voices as well thanks to his courage.”
Savva is widely acknowledged as one of the most groundbreaking Cypriot artists of the 20th Century. In a relatively short period of time he produced an impressive and highly diverse body of works, ranging from the figurative paintings of the 50s to the abstract paintings, sculptures, experimentations with wire, cement, and fabric leftovers, as well as forays into furniture design and the architectural interventions he undertook in the 60s.
Savva attended St. Martin’s School of Art and the Central School of Art in London, before enrolling at Heatherley’s School of Art where he studied until 1953. During the next two years, he spent time in Cyprus where he presented his first solo exhibitions and became involved in the local artistic scene, while being one of the founders of the Pancyprian Union of Art Votaries.
His juxtaposition of styles and the wide range of themes and references that appear in Savva’s work, from Greek and African Classical Art to Cypriot handicrafts, Folk Art, Informal Art, Pop Art, and avant-garde movements, suggest strictly formal questions were not his main concern.
In May 1960, together with Welsh artist Glyn Hughes, Savva founded Apophasis (Decision), before being selected eight years later to represent Cyprus in its inaugural pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Only a few weeks after the opening, Savva he died suddenly in Sheffield, UK. The new exhibition then marks 50 years since two events crucial to it – Savva’s participation the biennale and his death.
Untimely on Time presents more than 90 works, paying homage to a major figure of Cypriot art while aiming to provoke reflections on the processes that have shaped the post-independence national imaginary of Cyprus.
This is the first of a series of events to be presented in the new State Gallery of Contemporary Art – SPEL, until it operates under the statute of the Cyprus Museum of Contemporary Art, whose establishment is underway. This will bring together in one space the works and operation of several art galleries in Cyprus.
Untimely on Time
Solo exhibition of Christoforos Savvas’ work. Until March 31. State Gallery of Contemporary Art – SPEL, Famagusta Street, Nicosia. Tuesday – Sunday 10am-6pm, Saturday 11am-8pm. The exhibition is co-organised by the ministry of education’s Cultural Services and the Point Centre for Contemporary Art in conjunction with the participation of Cyprus in the 58th Venice Biennale