On ViewAnonymous Gallery
May 10–June 10, 2023
Chrysanne Stathacos occupies the position of the Pythia (prophetess at Delphi) in an art world much in need of a connection to the Mysteries. The Mysteries have been the foundation of all great civilizations, and their demise has always signaled a decline—after the Mithraic priests and later the Gothic leader Alaric and Christian monks invaded the shrine of Eleusis, Greece fell from dominance. Stathacos is a unique prophetess, bridging East and West, and comes to us in our time of cultural collapse. Inspired by her Athenian family of origin, she combines Greek Orthodoxy with Tibetan Buddhist practices and explorations of Dionysus and the Delphic Oracle. In the words of her alter-ego Anne de Cybelle, the artist’s work in this exhibition is a return not simply to her old stomping grounds of the Lower East Side, but to what Luce Irigaray advocated as a return to corporality ending the philosophical concealment of our maternal origins:
It was obvious that it was time to consult the oracle at Delphi, who would enlighten her and help her out of the shadows of her mind. Time to go where the wild Maenads danced in the mountains. Delphi was the home of the earth goddess Gaia, who is rumoured to still reside there in secret. The Greek word for Delphi, means womb, thus confirming this.
A long runner, Roseblood Scroll (2015–2022), made from toweling bought by a Greek aunt, spans the exhibition’s floor. In a memorable essay, “Chrysanne Stathacos: Cooking with Roses,” Karen Azoulay compares the work’s indelible rose and blood traces to those of the Shroud of Turin: “the length of linen stained, according to believers, with the imprint of Jesus of Nazareth. But perhaps an even more fitting companion is the venerated tilma (cloak) of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. Legend recounts that the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego and led him to a field of roses blooming in midwinter as proof of her divine intercession.” The Roseblood Scroll also offers a path through the rigidity of an art world mired in critical theory and incapable of a suspension of disbelief. Stathacos is the Pythia we need inhabiting the sanctuary established by artists like Ana Mendieta and the ladies of Heresies, a temenos neglected by much of the art establishment.
Eight small, framed, individual rose petal works from 1996 are the magical relics of this exhibition. With titles like Petal Sleeping Venus Face, Petal Leap III, Petal Gold II, and Petal Sleeping Face III, these little gems prove to be an enchanting antidote in an art world overrun by large splashy hollow gestures. They feel as though they should be venerated, not simply viewed. The artist was inspired by the rose petals often pressed against the glass of guru portraits in India. Using a secret process, Stathacos adheres images from early-twentieth-century erotica onto the petals. Eros, an attribute of Aphrodite, also seems transfixed onto these labial petals. For this critic, these eight miniscule petals are artistically and philosophically monumental, although tiny in scale. They are mounted on Stathacos’s Rose Wall canvas (1995–2022), which covers the gallery’s end wall. The artist has folded this large canvas in sections and run it through a 30 by 40-inch etching press, so it relates to the printed petal images. Three stretched canvas works, Rose Hair (1992), Rose Blood Tree (1992), and Rose Tree (1992), are never-before exhibited works from older series by the artist. They employ paint, printed ivy, and hair seen in the artist’s former exhibitions.
With these works, the downstairs gallery takes on the feel of a descent into a chthonian realm. We sense that we are entering a sacred precinct inhabited by Demeter and goddesses associated with spiritual and agricultural renewal. Stathacos has made many trips to India and Delphi. She has been inspired by her spiritual friend Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, a bhikṣuṇī in the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Her work comes from decades of devotional practice and possesses an authenticity and originality. I would highly recommend a trip to this exhibition precinct.