CHICAGO, IL – One of Greece’s most rich and ornate eras spanning over 1,000 years has come to life at the Art Institute of Chicago through the traveling exhibition “Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections.” Following the exhibit’s launch attracting some 2,700 visitors, co-organizer Benaki Museum was the center of attention at two fundraising efforts hosted in support of the Athens-based entity.
Events held two days apart by John Calamos Sr. at the Arista Hotel in Naperville, Ill. on September 27th, as well as by the Hellenic American Leadership Council at the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago, on the 29th “raised tens of thousands of dollars,” for Benaki Museum efforts, according to Peter Poulos, partner at Greka Icons.
The dinner reception hosted by Calamos included remarks by Costanza Sbozou Constandakopoulos, who sits on the Benaki Museum board, as well as Mike Manatos, Senior Vice President at the Washington, DC-based government relations firm Manatos and Manatos. Guest of honor was brand strategist Peter Economides, who endorsed the Benaki Museum, reflecting on his Greek roots through a speech and film presentation communicating the importance of preserving Hellenic memories and history.
“My father’s parents came to Greece with the Asia Minor catastrophe. They were children at the time. It is impossible to imagine what they went through. Despite that, my grandmother never lost her smile,” said Economides. “Small little things…I really do believe that it’s lots of these small little things that are our heritage, that’s what it’s actually about,” he added.
Laura Evans Manatos, anchor at Fox News, served as Master of Ceremonies. Among some 90 guests in attendance were representatives of the Benaki Museum, Consul General Ioanna Efthimiadou, and prominent members of Chicago’s Greek-American community.
“This has been a terrific event this evening. One of the things that we learn about our Greek heritage is that it inspires us, and what the Benaki has done here is inspire us at the National Hellenic Museum (NHM) because what they’ve done in Greece is what we’re trying to do here in the United States. I am very impressed with them,” said Calamos, who serves as Chairman of NHM.
Based in Greektown, Chicago, NHM is partnering with the Benaki Museum on special exhibits including the latest Greek Monsters exhibit, which opened in late September.
“It’s really important that we continue what they [Benaki Museum] have done, and hopefully what we can do here with the National Hellenic Museum,” Calamos said. We’re really looking forward to collaborate with them. Nobody can do this by themselves. Our missions are similar and it’s very important that we can do this collaboration moving forward,” he added.
In doing so, the Benaki Museum hopes to battle the crippling effects of tough economic times in Greece, aiming to gain the interest and support of the Greek
American community for upcoming exhibits and events fostering the preservation and celebration of Greek history and art.
“The budget has been slashed dramatically because of the economic crisis in Greece but the museum wants to better engage with the Greek-American community, create synergies, and keep in touch,” Manatos said, inviting the crowd to make a donation. “Please join us in the showing the world that Greek culture is alive, it is strong, it is global as ever. Together we are the Benaki. My museum. Our museum,” he added.
Founded by Antonis Benakis, the Benaki Museum opened its doors in 1931. Housed in a neoclassical building featuring a number of permanent and traveling exhibits, the museum today ranks among major institutions that have enriched the material assets of the Greek state, and is also oldest museum in Greece operating as a Foundation under Private Law.
“Understanding the past, which allows us to inform the present and thereby illuminate the future…we become connected, and we share this with the world, which gives us shared context and shared meaning, and this to me is the remarkable thing I found inside the Benaki,” Economides said.
For more information about the Benaki Museum, visit benaki.gr. For more information about the National Hellenic Museum, visit nationalhellenicmuseum.org.
ABOUT THE EXHIBIT
Open to the public on September 27th, the exhibit features a collection of 63 painted icons, mosaics, architectural fragments, luxury glass, liturgical textiles, and manuscripts that will be on display until February 15th. Originally exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Art Institute’s exhibition includes the debut of a 14th-century icon of Saint Prokopios.
“We did not initially plan to present the exhibit in Chicago but it has been a wonderful addition and we have received a welcoming response,” said Dr. Anastasia Drandaki, curator of the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection at the Benaki Museum.
“Heaven and Earth” explores the legacy of the Byzantine Empire through five main themes: the transition from the Classical to the Byzantine world, spiritual life, intellectual life, the pleasures of life, and crosscurrents between East and West during the final days of the empire in the 15th century.
“The art is a very good reminder of the important history,” said Calamos of his visit to the exhibit. “At first it was just art and it was very nice, but when I started going through the history of the art, it became really much more inspiring to learn because the art is really reflective of the times…it’s critical. It’s not just the art, it’s why the art is there,” Calamos said of the exhibit.
Major funding for the “Heaven and Earth” exhibit has been provided by the Jaharis Family Foundation, Inc. and OPAP S.A. Additional support has been provided by the Stratis family, Charlotte Vern Olson, and Karen and Walter Alexander, and the A.G. Leventis Foundation.
For more information on the Heaven and Earth exhibit, visit artic.edu.
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