PB: Saturday, 26 August 2006 NEWSLETTER

Alexander IolasAlexander Iolas in the ACG Art Collection

Alexander Iolas was born Constantine on 25 March 1907 in Alexandria, Egypt, to Andreas and Persephone Coutsoudis, who were wealthy Greek antique dealers. In 1924, he went to Berlin as a pianist, and later became a ballet dancer who toured extensively with the Theodora Roosevelt Company and later with the Grand Ballet of the Marquis de Cuevas (f. 1944) in New York. In the mid 1940s, following a knee injury, Iolas - who was already an established dancer at New York's Metropolitan Theatre - gave up dancing, and dedicated himself to his other passion: art. It was around that time in his life that he decided to change his name from 'Constantine Coutsoudis' to 'Alexander Iolas'. The designer Nikos Zouboulis vaguely remembers that the idea was by Swiss-born art critic Nicolas Calas (1907-1988). The Greek-American art dealer Takis Efstathiou, who apprenticed at Iolas, claims this idea came from American novelist Theodora Roosevelt Keogh O'Toole Rauchfuss (1919-2008), granddaughter of president Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). In any case, especially the name 'Alexander' carried for Iolas the aura of history and memory of his origin in Alexandria.

Iolas received the 'baptism of fire' with modern art when in the late 1930s he was buying artworks with the salary he earned as a dancer. In the 1960s, above all, his art gallery was one of the liveliest and most active in Paris. Known primarily for his championship of the major European Surrealists - especially Max Ernst and René Magritte - Iolas helped to form more than one important collection, in the United States and in Europe. In particular, Mr. and Mrs. John de Menil bought extensively from him, with results that caused general admiration when The Menil Collection was put on permanent public view in Houston. Victor Brauner, Joseph Cornell, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Roberto Matta, Jules Olitski, Yves Klein and Andy Warhol were among the artists whom Iolas represented from the 1940s onward in his galleries in Geneva, Madrid, Milan, New York, Paris, and Rome. Iolas built an influential reputation in the art market for promoting young talent and moulding artistic trends. In promoting work that initially found few to favor it, he was able to reassure the potential client by his hierophantic manner, his often sensational mode of dress and his mischievous and sometimes irresistible charm.

In later years, Iolas retired to Athens, where he collaborated with Tasos Zoumboulakis (1931-1983), director of Zoumboulakis Gallery at 7 Kriezotou Street. He adapted to the Greek reality of the junta and promoted as jewels in his crown Alekos Fasianos and Nico Hadjikyriaco Ghika, among other renowned Greek artists. He embraced many artists not all of which came down art history, whose works he collected for the sophistication that he distinguished in them. It is not widely known that Iolas was condemned by the junta for scandal, when he tried to export the statue of a kouros from Greece. These facts have remained in obscurity because Greek society did not bother with them. Of the endless series of precious objects decorating Iolas' house in Agia Paraskevi stand out two candlesticks by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) on his marble dining table, Byzantine curtains with cloth of the 14th century, the sofa of Marcel Proust (1871-1922), a sofa of Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), and the campaign tent of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) in his bedroom. Iolas was known for his harsh criticism. It is a fact that when, following a reception, he discovered a cigar quenched in ancient kylix of his collection he became much more attentive to and aggressive in his criticism on the ignorance and the vulgarity of Greek celebrities, the rulling class, and the rich bourgeoisie... a factor that put off his relationship with Melina Mercouri (he gave a disastrous interview, in which he made his blunt views public, I think in Epikera magazine). Thus, when in 1982 he asked Melina to turn his house into a museum, she ignored him. In 1984 he donated the majority of artworks from his collection to the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, but a year later only 50 of those ever reached the institution.

Iolas died at New York Hospital on 8 June 1987, shortly before his 80th birthday, among the first victims of AIDS, from contaminated blood in cataract surgery in California. Unfortunately the great men who knew and loved him were not involved in writing his biography. The well-known Greek gallerist in Paris Iris Clert (1918-1986) mentions Iolas in her memoirs. Iolas had created a myth around him, and had no heirs. The art historian Denys Zacharopoulos, a friend of his since 1969 in Athens and later in Paris, owes to Iolas the astonishment of free associations connecting art and culture, artworks and antique objects. Iolas had more to do not so much with knowledge, of which he was anyway suspicious, but sensitivity. Thus, Iolas came to refine these correlations on the level of objects, on the artistic, theatrical or decorative level, which he consistently evolved into a style that was entirely his own (though today this would seem anti-epistemological or a little excessive or obsolete). Nontheless, he influenced many people in a direct way both in Paris and the USA, where he created great collections and passed his opinions on sets of artworks that currently honor the greatest American museums, starting with the Museum of Houston and the De Menil Collection, which he organized together and presented to a high degree. A special relationship between art and 'culture' Zacharopoulos encountered for the first time on Iolas' views and the way he curated exhibitions, his collection, which mixed up ancient cultures with contemporary works. He saw Iolas put on exhibition with a great theatricality, and an aesthetic magic that has not been repeated since his time. He had a poetic perception of space that he owed perhaps to his origin in the Middle East. Above all, however, Zacharopoulos remembers his "apocalyptic bond with the artists".

Iolas' rightful heir is French and continues to live in Paris. A person who knew Iolas well was Samy Kinge, who was his right hand in Paris. One of his beneficiaries was his gardener of Lazaros Politis who acquired a large collection of great artworks out of the generosity that characterized Iolas. The works of Iolas in the ACG Art collection are due to Takis Efstathiou. They include Tom Keogh's Self-Portrait [KeoT1948self] and Richard de Menocal's Flowers in Blue Vase [DeMR1940blue] and Flowers in Pink Vase [DeMR1940pink], both of ca. 1940. In 2008 Mr. Efstathiou also donated a rare poster of ca. 1960 [MagR1960iola] for an exhibition of René Magritte at the Paris branch of Alexander Iolas Gallery.

In closing, it is worth noting that Alexander Iolas was a great man beyond nationalities, whose contribution to culture is yet to be recognized by the entire art world, and especially that of Greece.

Megakles Rogakos

INFORMATION: Megakles Rogakos, The American College of Greece - ACG Art
6 Gravias Street, Agia Paraskevi, Athens, GR 15342, Greece, T: +30-210-6009800/1456, E: