The Unknown Masterpiece: Portrait of a Woman, 2018 | by Artemis Potamianou

Collage (printed canvas, c-prints)

53 × 45 cm

© Artemis Potamianou


The Unknown Masterpiece: Portrait of a Woman, 2018

Series: The Unknown Masterpiece

The series title “The Unknown Masterpiece” originates from Honoré de Balzac‘s book of the same name: “The Unknown Masterpiece” (1831). Balzac‘s work describes an encounter between the fictional artists Frenhofer and Porbus (based on real-life court painter Franz Pourbus) as well as the real-life Nicolas Poussin. Admitted by the painter Frenhofer, Poussin visits the distinguished painter Porbus in his studio. In his quest for absolute beauty, the old painter Frenhofer attempts to create the absolute masterpiece. He keeps “improving” his painting for ten years, ending up with an illegible composition, thus destroying his life’s work.

The two central characters of the story, the great maître Frenhofer and the young artist Poussin, were the inspiration and reference for many essays on art and the role of the artist. Frenhofer‘s utter devotion to his art inspired Cézanne, Picasso, Rilke and many other artists. Paul Cézanne in particular strongly identified with him, once saying “Frenhofer, c’est moi” (I am Frenhofer). The book fascinated Picasso enough for him to undertake its illustration in 1921. Indeed, he identified with Frenhofer to such an extent that he moved to the Rue des Grands-Augustins in Paris, where Porbus‘ studio was located. It was there that Picasso painted Guernica. In the encounters between Frenhofer and Poussin there is however another important character: Poussin‘s lover: Gillette. She was the muse and the exchange “object” between the two artists, a tragic figure determined by the decisions and choices of the men in the story.

In Potamianou‘s series “The Unknown Masterpiece”, famous portraits of women that have earned a place in art history for their virtuosity (in painting) are deconstructed and offer an initial “canvas” that is reconverted and recreated by pieces of portraits of famous men. The series constitutes a sharp comment on the position of women in society and the “male” roles they have to adopt. The picture created in the end is a nightmare image, a “hermaphrodite”, a “Frankenstein” monster composed by “perfect” integral parts.

© Artemis Potamianou

Artemis Potamianou is an artist and curator living and working in Athens. Her work focuses on issues of perception. She explores the triptych artist, artwork and exhibition space, criticising standard curatorial practices and raising questions that defy the art system. In a constant dialogue with art history, she appropriates seminal works and deconstructs them only to reconstruct them again into a new reality. Her works feature familiar images in unfamiliar settings, absurd visual juxtapositions, and the simultaneous presence of different epochs in one story. Potamianou creates uncanny visual narratives – frequently to be experienced mentally and bodily – imbued with caustic political and feminist connotations.

Potamianou has had 25 solo exhibitions. Venues have included the Hellenic American Union (Athens), the Borough Museum and Art Gallery (Newcastle), the MAC (Midlands Art Center of Birmingham), Fizz Gallery (Athens), Tint Gallery (Thessaloniki) and Pleiades Gallery (Athens), amongst others.

She has participated in more than 130 group shows, at the 1st Biennale of Thessalonica, the BIDA – Biennale of Spain, the 3rd Athens Biennale, National Museum of Contemporary Art (Athens), State Museum of Contemporary Art (Thessaloniki), Vista Mare Foundation (Pescara), International Young Art 2002: Sotheby’s Amsterdam, Sotheby’s Tel Aviv, Sotheby’s Moscow, Change and Partner Contemporary Art (Rome), «Greek Sale»- Bonhams (London), The Benaki Museum (Athens), Biennale Internazionale Dell’ Arte Contemporanea (Florence), Open 15 – International Exhibition (Venice), Tensta Kulturhus-Tensta house of culture (Stockholm), etc. Potamianou completed her BA(FA) at the School of Fine Art (Athens) in 1997 and has subsequently received an MA degree from Staffordshire University (1999).

She has curated more than 60 exhibitions by influential artists of international relevance such as Joseph Kosuth, Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys, Terry Atkinson, Peter Greenaway, Candice Brietz, Guerrilla Girls, etc.

Potamianou is also the founder and Director of Platforms Project – Independent Art Fair, the presenter and producer of Art Therapy, a radio talk show about visual art at Beton7 radio, since 2011, and the Editor in chief of visual arts for GRA Review (a magazine of architecture and design) since 2010. Potamianou is on the board and has been the Treasurer of AICA HELLAS (International Association of Art Critics) since 2015. Potamianou has written essays for exhibition catalogues and books.