The Unsurpassable Feat of Tériade
The greatest surprise that the summer tourist to Lesbos experiences is the opportunity to see works by the great masters of modernism at the Museum of Tériade.
Tériade is the nom de plume of Stratis Eleftheriades (2 May 1889 – 23 October 1983), a native of Lesbos who went to Paris in 1915 at the age of 18 to study law, but who instead became an art critic, patron, and, most significantly, publisher. From 1937 to 1975 he commissioned top contemporary artists of the French art scene – such as André Beaudin, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Juan Gris, Marcel Gromaire, Henri Laurens, Le Corbusier, Fernard Léger, Aristide Maillol, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, George Rouault, Jacques Villon – to produce series of works for his legendary quarterly journal “Verve” (1937-1960) and the longer-lasting publications “Great Books” (1937-1975).
Caption in the first room of the exhibition. Letter of Odysseus Elytis to Stratis Eleftheriades Tériade. Byzantine & Christian Museum, Athens © Megakles Rogakos 2013
In 1937, at the age of 48, in his effort to create the most beautiful magazine of the world, as he claimed, Tériade recruited his knowledge and experience in art to create “Verve.” The title of this journal, summing the meaning of vigor, spirit and enthusiasm in a word, is closely related to its content in form as well as design. Based on the favourable conditions of his times, the historic period of modernism, Tériade comprehended the significance of contemporary art and supported it constructively. Until 1971, he offered a platform to leading artists to express themselves with the required freedom under his expert supervision. The most famous and brilliant painters, poets and authors collaborated there. Illustrations by the aforementioned artists accompanied texts written by great French authors, such as Albert Camus, Gabriel Fauré, André Gide, Robert Grenier, Jean Giraudoux, Nicolas Jouandeau, and representatives of foreign literature, such as John Dos Passos, Odysseus Elytis, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Federico García Lorca, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rabindranath Tagore and many more. Thus, he achieved an unprecedented publishing miracle both in quality and content that has come to be known as a monument celebrating visual art and literature. His publications were elevated to the level of original art.
Aspect of the first room of the exhibition.”Jazz” by Henri Matisse. Byzantine & Christian Museum, Athens. Photo © Megakles Rogakos 2013
Tériade also offered artists the chance to express themselves by illustrating books thus reviving the calligraphic tradition of the old medieval manuscripts. This resulted in a series of 26 so-called “Great Books”, an original artistic merging of text and illustration that yielded such masterpieces as “The Poem of the Right Angle” by Le Corbusier (1955), “Jazz” by Henri Matisse (1947), Pierre Reverdy’s “The Song of the Dead” by Pablo Picasso (1948), “Circus” by Fernand Léger (1950), Longus’ “Daphnis and Chloe” by Marc Chagall (1961), Alfred Jarry’s “King Ubu” by Joan Miró (1966), “Paris With No Bounds” by Alberto Giacometti (1969), and many more. In particular, Miró’s illustrations for “King Ubu” are probably the most playful rendering of this satirical play of 1896, which revolutionized modern theatre and established its eccentric author Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) as the pioneer of the Theatre of the Absurd.
Juan Mirò (1893-1983). King Ubu (1966), Paris. Lithograph on arches paper (33 x 43). Varia, Lesbos. Museum-Library of Tériade.
Tériade died in 1983 in Paris having acquired international fame as a great publisher of art books that stand out for their high quality and bold originality. He was honored during his lifetime by France, the country of his residence. In 1973, the Centre National d’Art Contemporain offered the “Hommage to Tériade” retrospective exhibition, which was curated by Michel Anthonioz at the Grand Palais [Hommage à Tériade, Grand Palais, 16 May – 3 September 1973. Texts by Michel Anthonioz. Paris: Centre National d’Art Contemporain, 1973]. This exhibition included the prototype illustrations that subsequently travelled to museums in London, Madrid and Tokyo. Subsequently, in August 1979, Tériade and his wife Alice opened the purpose-built Museum-Library in the southern Lesbos suburb of Varia, right beside his family house. In 16 rooms over two floors of the building the museum displays all the prototype illustrations that featured in his retrospective exhibition around the world, as well as paintings by Greek artists that he acknowledged and admired, such as Kostas Charalabidis, Theophilos Hatzimichael, Giorgos Rorris, Yannis Tsarouchis, Manolis Kalliyiannis, Orestis Kanellis, and George Vakirtzis. Without taking into consideration the expenses, Tériade wished to offer the visitors of his museum the opportunity to acquaint themselves with his printing achievement and broader art collection. With the donation of the museum and its priceless content to the Greek state, Tériade contributed to his homeland an invaluable cultural benefaction.
Aspect of the exhibition’ s main hall. “Circus” (1950) by Léger, “Song of the Dead” (1948) by Picasso and “Entertainment” (1943) by Roualt. Byzantine & Christian Museum, Athens. © Megakles Rogakos 2013
The majority of the content of Tériade’s retrospective exhibition – 350 artworks dated from 1943 to 1975 – are nowadays temporarily displayed at the Byzantine & Christian Museum, Athens. The exhibition is beautifully displayed as exemplified by its rich aspects. However, it is worth noting that this exhibition did not result as the Greek state’s overdue homage to its exceptional citizen and great benefactor, but as a necessity commanded by the no longer suitable museological conditions at the Museum of Tériade. Despite the efforts of Teriade Museum curator Costas Maniatopoulos, who has often requested the help of the state and local authorities, the museum is yet to fully realise its institutional objectives, modernise its infrastructure and organise a fine program of museum events. The official website is conveniently accessible in three languages – Greek, English and French. Nevertheless, it is yet to offer full access – visual and interpretational – to the entire collection. It also needs to be updated with the latest technological trends – search engines and navigation tools.
Aspect of the exhibition’ s main hall. Byzantine & Christian Museum, Athens © Megakles Rogakos 2013
In closing, it is rather sad to observe the fact that, despite his benefaction to his native island, the state of Greece is yet to appropriately honour Tériade with a street or a square bearing his name or a monument of sorts, like a bust or a relief. Unfortunately this is not surprising, considering the neglect of the Greek state to acknowledge other world-renowned individuals that have offered great service to the visual arts, such us Iris Clert (1917-1986), Alexander Iolas (1907-1987) and Christian Zervos (1889-1970). Nevertheless, amidst the present crisis, which is trying all its citizens’ resistances, it is high time the Greek state learns that civilization demands the respect and the action of its administrators.
*Top photo: Aspect of the exhibition’ s main hall. “King Ubu” (1966) by Juan Mirò. © Megakles Rogakos 2013