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Chryssa Vardea Mavromichali (born December 31, 1933 in Athens, Greece) is a Greek American artist who works in a wide variety of media. An American art pioneer in light art and luminist sculpture[1][2] widely known for her neon, steel, aluminum and acrylic glass installations,[3][4] she has always used the mononym Chryssa professionally.[2] She worked from the mid-1950s in New York City studios and has been working since 1992 in the studio she established in Neos Kosmos, Athens, Greece.



Chryssa was born in Athens into the famous Mavromichalis family from the Deep Mani.[5][6][7] Her family, while not rich, was educated and cultured; one of her sisters, who studied medicine, was a friend of the poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis.[5][7]

Chryssa began painting during her teenage years[5][7] and also studied to be a social worker.[8] In 1953, on the advice of "a leading art critic in Greece,"[5][7] her family sent her to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière[9][10] where André Breton, Edgard Varèse, and Max Ernst were among her associates and Alberto Giacometti was a visiting professor.[11]

In 1954, at age twenty-one, Chryssa sailed for the United States, arrived in New York,[12] and went to San Francisco, California to study at the California School of Fine Arts.[10][13] Returning to New York in 1955, she became a United States citizen and established a studio in the city.[12]

Major works and milestones


Chryssa's first major work was The Cycladic Books, a series of plaster reliefs which the French art critic Pierre Restany described as having produced "the purified and stylized geometric relief which is characteristic of Cycladic sculpture."[14] According to the American art historian and critic Barbara Rose,[11] The Cycladic Books preceded American minimalism by seventeen years.


Arrow: Homage to Times Square is a large 8 ft by 8 ft (2.4 m) work in painted cast aluminum.[15] In a 2005 interview in Vouliagmeni,[11] Chryssa said of this work: "I only ever kept one work for more than 15 years in my studio, "The Arrow" – it is now in Albany, in the Rockefeller Collection."


Chryssa's first solo exhibition was mounted at The Guggenheim.[5][9]


Times Square Sky is a 5 ft x 5 ft (1.5 m) x 9.5 in work in neon, aluminum and steel.[16] It is now in the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Chryssa's work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art[17] in curator Dorothy Canning Miller's Americans 1963 exhibition. The artists who were represented in the show also included Richard Anuszkiewicz, Lee Bontecou, Robert Indiana, Richard Lindner, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg, Ad Reinhardt, James Rosenquist, and others.


The Gates to Times Square, regarded as "one of the most important American sculptures of all time"[10] and "a thrilling homage to the living American culture of advertising and mass communications,"[18] is a 10 ft cube installation of two huge letter As[19] through which visitors may walk [2] into "a gleaming block of stainless steel and Plexiglas that seems to quiver in the play of pale blue neon light"[5] which is controlled by programmed timers.[9] First shown in Manhattan's Pace Gallery,[2] it was given to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery[19] in Buffalo, New York in 1972.


Clytemnestra is in the Corcoran Gallery of Art collection in Washington, D.C.[3] It is based on the anguish of Clytemnestra,[20] as portrayed by Chryssa's friend Irene Papas in the Michael Cacoyannis production of Iphigeneia at Aulis on Broadway,[11] upon learning that her daughter would be sacrificed by Agamemnon. This work, or another version of it, has also been installed outside the Megaron Concert Hall (compare megaron) in Athens.[11]


The Whitney Museum of American Art[9][21] mounted a solo exhibition of works by Chryssa.

That's All (early 1970s),[12] the central panel of a triptych related to The Gates of Times Square,[22] was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art between 1975 and 1979.


Chryssa's solo exhibition at the Gallerie Denise René[9][23] was reviewed for TIME magazine[12] by art critic Robert Hughes before it went on to the Galleries Denise René in Düsseldorf and Paris.


Chryssa's 70 ft (21 m) Untitled Light Sculpture, six large Ws connected by cables and programmed electronically to create changing patterns of light through 900 feet of neon tubing,[9] is suspended in the atrium of 33 West Monroe,[24] a Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill design and its former headquarters, in Chicago, Illinois.


Mott Street,[25][26] named for Mott Street in Chinatown, Manhattan, is a large work in dark aluminium and red-toned neon light which is installed in the Evangelismos station of the Athens Metro.

Other works by Chryssa in composite honeycomb aluminum and neon in the 1980s and 1990s include Chinatown, Siren, Urban Traffic, and Flapping Birds.[4]


In 1992, after closing her SoHo studio, which art dealer Leo Castelli had described as "one of the loveliest in the world,"[27] Chryssa returned to Greece. She found a derelict cinema which had become a storeroom stacked with abandoned school desks and chairs, behind the old Fix Brewery near the city center in Neos Kosmos, Athens. Using the desks to construct enormous benches, she converted the space into a studio for working on designs and aluminum composite honeycomb sculptures.[27] The Athens National Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded in 2000[28] and owns Chryssa's Cycladic Books,[14] is in the process of converting the Fix Brewery into its permanent premises.[28][29]


A partial listing of monographs on Chryssa's work:

  • 1968: Diane Waldman. Chryssa: Selected Works 1955-1967. New York: Pace Gallery (48 pp.) ISBN 0-93860-821-5.
  • 1974: Sam Hunter. Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (76 pp.) ISBN 0-50022-018-2.
  • 1977: Pierre Restany. Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (274 pp.) ISBN 0-81090-366-0.
  • 1983: Douglas Schultz. Chryssa: Urban Icons. Buffalo: Albright-Knox (170 pp.) ISBN 0-91478-247-9. [30]
  • 1990: Douglas Schultz. Chryssa: Cityscapes. London: Thames & Hudson (162 pp.) ISBN 0-50009-209-5.[31]

Exhibitions and collections

Partial listings of exhibitions and institutions with works by Chryssa in permanent collections:


Solo exhibitions

Group exhibitions


Additional exhibitions and collections are listed by the Artforum Culture Foundation,[23],[44] and other sources.

Artists in light

Some of the other artists who have incorporated electrified liquid gas[1] into their work:


Although Chryssa has always used the mononym professionally, some fine arts and art auction references nevertheless cite her as Chryssa Vardea, Vardea Chryssa, Chryssa Varda, or Varda Chryssa.

  1. ^ a b Lawrence O'Toole (February 4, 1990). "Where Neon Art Comes of Age". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d "A Times Square of the Mind". TIME magazine. March 18, 1966.,9171,941980,00.html. 
  3. ^ a b c Frank Popper (2007). "The Collection: Neon". Grove Dictionary of Art. Museum of Modern Art website. 
  4. ^ a b Chryssa. "Siren, Urban Traffic, Flapping Birds, Chinatown". Four large scale neon and honeycomb aluminum works. The Varo Registry of Women Artists (the registry is named for artist Remedios Varo). 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Chryssa: Brief biography and images of 3 works". One piece from The Cycladic Books (1957-1962) and two 1983 works, Untitled and Chinese Cityscape. Art Topos ( 
  6. ^ Stephan Bartholomä. "Deep Mani 2: Areopoli to Kitta". Mani: a Guide and History. "... the most famous of them being Petros Mavromichalis who became Bey of Mani in 1815 and is always referred to as 'Petrobey'." 
  7. ^ a b c d Robert Rogal (2006). "Chryssa biography". Ro Gallery, Long Island City, Queens. Chryssa Works. "[Chryssa]: In Times Square the sky is like the gold of Byzantine mosaics or icons. It comes and goes in the foreground instead of remaining in the background." 
  8. ^ "Vardea Chryssa Biography". MetroArtWork - Contemporary Art For Everyone. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Megakles Rogakos (August 2005). "Vardea Chryssa Biography". Artworks by Chryssa in the Collection of the American College of Greece (ACG Art). "Chryssa's sculptures, with precision and definite form, were a reaction against the prevalent Abstract expressionism of the 1950s ... [she] first made Pop images such as depictions of automobile tires and cigarettes. In sculptures she utilized letters of the alphabet, ideas that predated similar images by Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol." 
  10. ^ a b c PicassoMio Gallery. "Chryssa Biography". "Her work, The Gates to Times Square (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo) is regarded as one of the most important American sculptures of all time." 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Ilias Bissias interview (December 13, 2005). "Everything becomes sculpture". Life in Capital A. 
  12. ^ a b c d Robert Hughes (June 4, 1973). "Mysteries of Neon". Time magazine.,9171,907376,00.html. "[Chryssa] went into neon as fictive archaeology. The result is a chimerical amalgam of cultures, as though Chryssa's eye had got ahead of the present and were looking back on Times Square from a vantage point as remote in time from it as ours is from ancient Greece. ... at her best—as in That's all or the large and visually splendid Today's Special—she can give her apparently explicit light-sculptures an intense mystery, transforming the gallery space into a small Delos of the neon sign." 
  13. ^ Wayne Craven. American Art: History and Culture (p. 607). McGraw-Hill Professional, 2002. ISBN 0-07141-524-6.
  14. ^ a b c "Chryssa, 20 Cycladic Books, 1957". National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens. Pierre Restany, Chryssa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1977. ISBN 0-81090-366-0. 
  15. ^ a b "Arrow: Homage to Times Square (sculpture)". Smithsonian American Art Museum inventories database. Owner: State of New York Office of General Services, Corning Tower, Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York.!1922!0. 
  16. ^ a b David Rumsey. "Chryssa (Mavromicali) Times Square Sky 1962". The AMICA Library: Art Museum Images from Cartography Associates. Neon, aluminum, steel (60" x 60" x 9-1/2"), Walker Art Center. 
  17. ^ a b "Americans 1963". Exhibition catalogue description, International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. 
  18. ^ Guy Hubbard (November 2003). "Clip & save art notes: About The Gates to Times Square". Arts & Activities. 
  19. ^ a b c Albright-Knox Art Gallery. "The Gates to Times Square".  Sculpture/Construction. Chryssa, 1966. Welded stainless steel, neon, and plexiglass. Overall: 120 x 120 x 120" (304.8 x 304.8 x 304.8 cm.) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. List, 1972.
  20. ^ Judith E. Bernstock. "Classical Mythology in Twentieth-Century Art: An Overview of a Humanistic Approach". Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 14, No. 27 (1993), pp. 153-183 (31 pages). 
  21. ^ a b c d National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in Athens. "Exhibitions (1969-1981 timeline, Greek artists)". 
  22. ^ a b L.S. Sims et al. "Twentieth Century Art". Notable Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art), No. 1975/1979 (1975 - 1979), pp. 72-77 (6 pages). "That's All is the central panel of a huge triptych Chryssa worked on for several years and is the culmination of the graphic ideas embodied in The Gates of Times Square (1964-66), the artist's major work of the sixties. Through her preoccupation with contemporary technology and her fascination with American systems of communication, the Greek-born artist has expanded our traditional view of sculpture." 
  23. ^ a b Exhibitions listed by the Artforum Culture Foundation.
  24. ^ "33 West Monroe, Chicago". Description on Emporis (see also: description). 
  25. ^ Ilias Bissias (May 12, 2006). "Contemporary Greek art...underground!". Life in Capital A. "Entitled "Mott Street", after the main street in Manhattan's Chinatown which inspired it, it is a firm favourite with Athenians. Characteristic of the artist's later work, this large, sinewy, dark aluminium sculpture, lit with fiery pink-red neon lights, brims with energy and is really rather breathtaking." 
  26. ^ Works of Art (includes images) in Athens Metro stations include Chryssa's Mott Street in the Evangelismos station.
    See also: TourTripGreece Athens Metro article about the "underground art museums" in the stations.
  27. ^ a b Curator and art critic Takis Mavrotas (August 6, 1996). "Projections of Sculpture on screens of the future". Artopos (extract from "Ciné Oasis" catalog). "In an age dominated by abstract expressionism ... Chryssa had made her own personal proposal, free of borrowings from or direct references to other artists, beyond the pale of the avant-garde." 
  28. ^ a b The National Museum of Contemporary Art founded in 2000 in Athens. The Museum sponsors include I. F. Costopoulos Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Athens Metro, Alpha Bank, ATEbank, and Otenet. The Museum Building (formerly the Fix Brewery).
  29. ^ Dimitris Rigopoulos (January 14, 2003). "The National Museum of Contemporary Art set to get a new 2,500 sq.m. exhibition space". Kathimerini. 
  30. ^ a b Chryssa: Urban Icons event, "13 related objects." Includes oil paintings and other media. 21 Related Objects.
  31. ^ Douglas G. Schultz. "Chryssa: Cityscapes". London: Thames & Hudson, 1990. ISBN 0-50009-209-5.  Conversations with architect I. M. Pei, art dealer Leo Castelli, and others. 148 plates; list of public collections and exhibitions.
  32. ^ "Light Negative Positive" Poster, March 28, 1968 – April 15, 1968 in Harvard Yard at Robinson Hall, the former Harvard University library which the John Hay Library replaced in 1910.
  33. ^ Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Jacques Lassaigne and Pierre Restany, CHRYSSA: Oeuvres recentes (Recent Works). 1979, in French.
  34. ^ Vivien Raynor (June 30 1991). "Sculptures That Announce Themselves With a Blaze of Light". The New York Times. 
  35. ^ Leo Castelli Gallery (October 25, 1997 – November 15, 1997). "Forty Years of Exploration and Innovation: The Artists of the Castelli Gallery 1957 – 1997". Carnegie Mellon University Center for Arts Management and Technology. 
  36. ^ European Cultural Center of Delphi (Council of Europe). "Leading Artists of the 20th century: Chryssa - Takis" (17 June 2000 – 18 July 2000). Works by Chryssa included Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus, Athenian Landscape No. 2 and No. 3, Paris Landscape No 2, Marilyn, Times Square, The Newspaper, and (for the first time) the copper Cycladic Books: Green Series. Eighteen works by Takis included Photovoltaic Energy, Acoustic Chords, and Hommage à Apollon.
  37. ^ European Cultural Center of Delphi (Council of Europe). "Apollo's Heritage" (July 4, 2003 – July 30, 2003). Works by sixteen artists: Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dali, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, Nikos Engonopoulos, Yannis Tsarouchis, Giorgos Sikeliotis, Takis, Arman, Fernando Botero, Chryssa, Dimitris Mytaras, Alekos Fassianos, Sarantis Karavouzis, Yiannis Psychopedis, Dimitris Sakellion, Georgios Xenos.
  38. ^ European Cultural Center of Delphi (Council of Europe). "Columns and Pillars" (July 1, 2005 – July 23, 2005). Works by Yannis Moralis, Costas Tsoclis, Alekos Fassianos, Sotiris Sorogas, Pavlos, Yiannis Psychopedis, Dimitris Mytaras, Opy Zouni, Novello Finotti, Stephan Antonakos, Chryssa, Günther Uecker, and others.
  39. ^ a b ArtNet. "New this month in U.S. Museums". "Refract, Reflect, Project: Light Works from the Collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden" (February 15, 2007 – April 8, 2007). Giovanni Anselmo, Chryssa, Ólafur Elíasson, Spencer Finch, Dan Flavin, Christoph Girardet, Joseph Kosuth, Iván Navarro, James Turrell, Thomas Wilfred. 
  40. ^ "Clytemnestra (sculpture)". Smithsonian American Art Museum database. Owner: Corcoran Gallery of Art.!5091!0. 
  41. ^ Eleven works in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution records. Works include: Cityscape Sculpture Times Square #11, c. 1982-1988 (honeycomb aluminum panel, metallic paint and neon; 96 x 96 x 30 inches), and Study for The Gates #15 (Flock of Morning Birds from Iphigeneia at Aulis by Euripides), 1967 (neon, glass, plastic, copper wire, wood, and timer; 95 1/8 x 35 1/2 x 29 1/2 in).
  42. ^ Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki. "Collection: Chryssa". China Town (1975 lithograph). Folded Repeated Forms, Times square city scape, Schismi (1990-1995 sculptures). Arrow (undated construction).;750. 
  43. ^ Louise Lewis (February 17, 2001 – March 31, 2001). "Sirens and Other Neon Seductions". Catalog essay, Art Galleries, California State University, Northridge.  Image of Fragments for Gates to Times Square II 1966 (programmed neon and acrylic glass) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.
  44. ^ Museums references on


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