National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST) – Athene (Grecia)

The National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST) is delighted to announce the opening of two exhibitions dedicated to exploring the work of the composer, architect and mathematician Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001), one of the most progressive creative thinkers and cultural practitioners of the second half of the 20th century.

Born to Greek parents in Braila, Romania, Xenakis was educated in Greece from the age of ten. To avoid political persecution after his involvement in the resistance movement, he self-exiled in France for 27 years, yet he always felt a deep connection for his country of origin.

One of the leading influences in the development of electronic and computer as well as industrial music, Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models in music, such as the application of game theory and probabilities, and his multifaceted and visionary work paved new paths for music in the 21st century. 

The two exhibitions represent the most extensive presentation of the work of this avant-garde composer, architect and mathematician, both in Greece and internationally.

At the opening on June 29Psappha will be performed by Alexandros Giovanos, a co-production with the Greek National Opera, and Studio LABOUR (Berlin) presents a programme of contemporary electronic music inspired by Iannis Xenakis.

Iannis Xenakis: Sonic Odysseys
Curators: Mâkhi Xenakis, Thierry Maniguet, Katerina Gregos

Co-produced by ΕΜSΤ and the Musée de la Musique – Philharmonie de Paris, the exhibition focuses on the most important and ground-breaking work of Xenakis’s visual, literary, architectural, and musical output, while illuminating his personal history by contextualising the composer in his times, and the political and cultural movements that defined him as an artist.

In the 1950s, Xenakis broke the boundaries of contemporary music and devised a genre of music that is entirely unique. Instantly recognisable despite being in a state of constant reinvention and revolution, his radical practice is, in essence, a reference to antiquity, an ode to nature and the elements, a tribute to modernism at its most extreme, and pioneering in its use of technology.

In 1947, during the Civil War and after obtaining his degree in engineering from the Athens Polytechnic, Xenakis fled to Paris after being sentenced to death for activities in the left-wing resistance, only to return after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, when he received an official pardon after nearly three decades of self-imposed exile.

Until his death in 2001 he composed over 150 works—from vocal, choral and orchestral, to chamber and solo music for piano, strings and percussion—as well as electronic music written on the UPIC, a computerised musical composition tool he devised that could translate graphical images into musical results.

The artist also left behind a small but seminal architectural oeuvre, produced while working with Le Corbusier at the latter’s studio in Paris in the 1950s. Most emblematic of these is the Philips Pavilion for the 1958 Brussels EXPO, with music by Edgar Varèse, the original maquette of which features in the exhibition, along with other important architectural projects.

Xenakis conjoined music with architecture, creating music for pre-existing spaces while also designing spaces for specific music compositions and performances. He was also pioneering in his radical spatial re-arrangement of the orchestra. The exhibition highlights the multi-faceted, multidisciplinary practice of this singular figure and illuminates the breadth of his prolific practice, demonstrating his unprecedented vision.

Xenakis remains a seminal influence on the development of electronic and computer music. Although widely acclaimed internationally, this represents the first time his work is showcased in such a comprehensive exhibition in Greece. Iannis Xenakis: Sonic Odysseys is also the largest exhibition dedicated to the work of Xenakis internationally to date, and includes a wealth of material from the Xenakis Family Archives, on view for the very first time.

Xenakis and Greece
Curators: Stamatis Schizakis and Stella Kourbana

In parallel with Iannis Xenakis: Sonic Odysseys, a second exhibition dedicated to Xenakis explores the troubled and complex relationship the artist had with his homeland. Xenakis and Greece spans his years in the communist resistance to the death sentence and subsequent life sentence issued for his political activities, his forced self-exile, the in-absentia acknowledgement of his work in Greece, his eventual return after 27 years in France following a pardon in 1974 by the newly elected democratic government, culminating with his belated recognition in his own country.

Xenakis and Greece features archival material, photographs, and unpublished letters, documenting aspects of the rich experimental musical scene in Greece in the 1960s and 1970s, the initiatives that promoted the musical avant-garde and supported contemporary composers, and with Xenakis’ return, the presentation of his major Greek works, such as Mycenae Polytope

Produced by EΜSΤ, the exhibition is a collaboration with the Contemporary Music Research Center (CRMC) at the Athens Conservatoire, Greece, which was co-founded by Xenakis in 1979. 

Katerina Gregos, EMST artistic director: “These two exhibitions take us on a journey of exploration through Iannis Xenakis’ unique universe to discover his sweeping sound masses and ultra-modern multi-dimensional spatial and musical universes. The exhibition parcours is designed around six chapters, centred on a number of major works, both musical and architectural. Presenting both personal and artistic material, a thematic and chronological narrative thread highlights his expansive artistic vision and offers insight into his tumultuous personal history, while also revealing the multitude of his ecumenical interests. Both exhibitions also form an important part of the museum’s mission to highlight the work of seminal as well as under-recognised Greek artists of the diaspora.”

Public programme
A dynamic and engaging public programme is planned to complement both exhibitions. Organised by EMST Athens, it features a series of concerts, screenings, and musical events that highlight Xenakis’ legacy in contemporary music, the timeless contemporary nature of his vision, and the universal conception of his art.