Critics’ Picks

View of “Great Moments in History,” 2012. Left: Stelios Karamanolis, Grace I, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50“. Right: Stelios Karamanolis, Grace II, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50”.


Stelios Karamanolis

CAN Christina Androulidaki gallery
42 Anagnostopoulou Str
May 29–July 7, 2012

“Great Moments in History,” Stelios Karamanolis’s latest solo show, questions the effect images have on our consensus about the past while exposing our propensity to forget, alter, and mythologize historical narratives. The paintings, paper-stencil prints, and 3-D video game stills on view address the unreliability of both subjective and collective memory. Take Grace I and Grace II (all works cited, 2012), both paintings based on a photograph of the royal Monegasque family that was published in a 1960s French journal. Here, the artist presents two versions of the scene, blurring the lines between photojournalistic accuracy and historical license: Grace I shows the Prince of Monaco with infant Princess Stéphanie on his lap, while Grace II, nearly identical to the first, replaces the child with a white poodle. While the family’s lapdog was a substantial topic of conversation in the periodical’s interview with the monarchs, it was not present in the original photograph and is the artist’s imaginative inclusion in this pictorial event. The contrast of the two paintings, shown side by side, equivocates fact and fiction: either scene could be identified as the “official” version of history.

The refusal of the works in this exhibition to affirm an unambiguous account of the past speaks to the ability of images to replace memories and even to implant new ones. For example, in his “Battlefield” series, Karamanolis presents stills from war video game Call of Duty but removes all specifics that would allude to a particular period or geography (cars, trees, human figures, etc.). What remain are barren cityscapes that appear at once postapocalyptic and eerily familiar—modernist architecture and late afternoon shadows evoke evacuated urban centers during World War II. The artist, an ardent player of the game, presents these images as souvenirs of his “presence” within their surroundings. As the stills recall a particular time and place that never existed, Karamanolis’s purportedly historical account of his time as a combatant in these fictional settings stands as a valid impression of possible alternative realities.