Wrightwood 659 Hosts Chryssa & New York

As an immigrant, a woman, and a queer artist, Chryssa — who used only her first name professionally — became a leading figure of the New York art world in the 1950s and ’60s within avant-garde circles. The dazzling signs and symbols of Times Square captured her attention when she first arrived at Manhattan’s electric center in 1954, leading her toward a practice of examining signage, text, and light. This spring, Wrightwood 659 hosts Chryssa & New York, the first museum exhibition in North America in more than four decades to focus on the Greek-born artist’s oeuvre. Co-organized by the Dia Art Foundation and the Menil Collection, Houston, in collaboration with Alphawood Foundation, the critically acclaimed exhibition makes the final stop on its national tour at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago, from May 3 through July 27.

Electric light revolutionized 20th-century art, empowering artists like Chryssa to manipulate light as its own medium. By the 1960s, Chryssa exhibited widely, with solo shows at Pace Gallery, Betty Parsons Gallery, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and she was especially known for her early work with neon technology. She observed how the glowing signs cut through the grime and smog of the urban cityscape — akin to glinting Byzantine mosaics flaked with gold — and recognized them as icons of modern civilization. 

Chryssa captured the electric chaos of Times Square and bent it to her will, transforming discarded commercial signs, cast metal, and pulsing neon into her magnum opus, “The Gates to Times Square” (1964–66). In preparation for the exhibition, “The Gates to Times Square,” along with several other pinnacle works, underwent extensive conservation. This effort was part of a coordinated initiative with museums across the United States to restore these early new media works for viewing.

In addition to Chryssa’s neon work, the exhibition includes the Cycladic Books series (1954–57) and her Newspapers (1959-62). Chryssa became an early adaptor of mechanized printing methods, reproducing the words and images of mass media while obscuring legibility. Imitating a machine, Chryssa painted discarded printing plates from papers such as Times Square’s namesake, The New York Times, and pressed them onto the canvas in a grid pattern extending beyond the frame into a perceived infinity. 

Chryssa & New York presents a rare chance to see the artist’s underrecognized body of work. The exhibition is co-curated by Megan Holly Witko, External Curator, Dia Art Foundation, and Michelle White, Senior Curator, the Menil Collection, Houston.

For more information, visit wrightwood659.org.

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