Simos Korexenidis’ documentary “Teriade” is referring to the life and work, of the Lesvos island born Stratis Eleftheriadis – Teriade (1897 – 1983), Art critic and Art book publisher, who topped the artistic life of France from 1920’s up to 1960’s. At a time that the so called “modern art”, was at its beginning, Tériade was tightly connected with its establishers and pioneers. This collaboration was active and definite and included well established editors of the time, such Christian Zervos, Albert Skira, Maurice Reynal etc. In addition to his active participation in the domain of editing as an art critic, Tériade started publishing art books and magazines that drew worldwide attention and reputation, because of their originality and unique quality. In 1937 Tériade established the publishing house “Verve“, publishing mainly the magazine with the same name (“Verve: The French Review of Art”). It published 38 issues from 1937 to 1960.
So brilliant was the outcome, that the official French state organized an “Hommage a Tériade”, in the series of great retrospective exhibitions, at the Grand Palais (1973). It is the same exhibition that nowadays is permanently settled in the museum bearing the name of its donator: Stratis Eleftheriadis-Tériade built right beside the fatherly house in Mytilene, Lesvos island. Tériade also promoted the naive painter Theophilos and provided him with the means and the financial ability to paint. With the donation of the “Theophilos” museum as well as the “Tériade” museum-library and their priceless collections, he has created in Mytilene, his homeland, a unique spot of culture.
In the documentary important professionals from the art world talk about Teriade, among others Katerina Koskina (Director of the Athens-based National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), Marina Lambraki Plaka (Director of the Greek National Gallery), Katina Charalabidi (Director of Teriade Foundation), and Kostas Maniatopoulos (painter/Director of Museum-Library Teriade).
The documentary was and will be presented in many different Festivals and spaces, such the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, the 31 Griechische Filmwoche Festival in Munich, and the 4th Free Flying Festival in Brussels.
When was your first acquaintance with Tériade? What prompted you to create the documentary?
An article in the local newspaper “Politika Lesvos” by my friend Varvara Gigilini, describing the financial difficulties and the negligence of the two museums, was the origin of this documentary. What we wanted to do, almost eight years ago, was something short, a five-minute video, to make the municipal authorities of Lesbos and the State aware of the museums Theophilos and the Museum-Library Teriade.
But as our research grew, the more we discovered this wonderful and intelligent person, and that’s why we made the decision to do something longer and more elaborate. So we started our documentary and we have come a long way to get to the end of this effort. And all this in the heart of the crisis that has multiplied our difficulties even if the encouraging words and “bravos” were everywhere. By the end, six years had passed, and that’s a lot for such a project. However, it is clear that they do not all share your interest, your love or your dream if you will, and this is known. We said that we should try to highlight the great contribution of this man to his homeland. People of a certain socio-political status and “interested” collaborators have just seen in all this an occasion for the use of the name of Tériade and any future financial gain that would result. We put them aside and we went ahead.
The road was not easy. I often said that I would drop everything. Fatigue, constant researching, a lot of reading and frustration, conciliating with uninterested people, but also stagnation. We managed to finish it and attend the first presentation at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. Great joy without a doubt and in my case a personal and redemptive victory. A very important thing for a man to whom we owe a lot. It was worth it.
What are the main axes of Tériade’s history that you supported in the creation of the film? What aspects of his life did you most want to depict?
His own life determined my central axis, since I wanted to make a personal and artistic portrait of Tériade, that is to say, by watching the documentary, that someone could understand who this man was.
The choice of the people who spoke in the documentary – and I’m very happy with everyone’s participation – was exactly what I wanted to show. Friends and acquaintances talk about personal moments revealing elements of his character and details of his daily life, art critics, artists, museum directors and museologists can refer to his artistic and editorial work and its meaning.
Tériade is a very important figure in the cultural history of Greece, and it is scandalous that this man, so famous and honored throughout the world, is so absent even today from his homeland. Even though he was a renowned art critic and publisher of art magazines (Verve, Minotaur).
And even he was the man who promoted our folk painter Theophilos … It should be noted that Tériade was friends with Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Chagal, Jiacometti, Léger, Juan Gris, Corbusier, Georges Rouault, Braque, Elytis, Eluard, Millau, Tsarouchis, NH Ghikas, Venezis, Laurens, Breson, Bonnard, Villon, Brassai and some of the biggest names in literature have written in his magazines such as Joyce, Lorca, Hemingway. Moreover, he was honored by the French Academy as “Knight of the Arts” and he founded and gave as a gift two museums in Lesvos, namely the Museum “Théophilos” and the one named “Museum-Library Tériade “.
First, I think this boundless love for patched earth is what overwhelms me. This need to be linked, literally and metaphorically, to one’s homeland. Hence the foundation of his museums on his estate “Varia” on the island of Lesvos as indisputable evidence of his attachment to his roots.
Secondly, the fact that he loved art with passion and that, with his ancestral education, he was able to integrate Greek and European philosophy into his work. Stratis Eleftheriadis Teriade was an extremely smart man. I would have liked to be present when he was talking with Picasso, or my favorite, Miro, with Coco Chanel, with Lorca, with Henry Cartier Bresson or with his friend psychiatrist Angelos Katakousinos, where a sample of conversation, for example, could even be a sentence from Elytis’s letter to Tériade, who writes: “Prizes – if you put aside the material side – are sometimes forgotten. What remains is the piece you could incorporate into the tradition of your country and your people.”
Or when Tériade says elsewhere: “The man who speaks about the art of his time, the art in progress, painstakingly traces his track, a dark or authentic track, between the magnificent power of divination and his fragile business spirit. Well, who wouldn’t want to be lucky enough to participate in the exchange of such thoughts?
In general, how do you see contemporary documentary production in Greece? Do you think there is a change towards this genre, and if so, why?
Yes, of course, there is a great blooming in documentary production, because digital cameras are now so easy and economical that you can always have a small camera that gives you a nice picture and good sound to develop a theme and an idea.
Certainly, there will be friends to help. After a laptop, go to the editing then, depending on your financial situation, you negotiate for a more professional product, let’s say. There are also many more places where documentaries can be screened. Not only public television (private television has never been interested in culture), it is subscription-TV channels and the Internet that provide easy access to information even from mobile phones.
Greek cinema is finding its way to festivals and international events in recent years. Why do you think this is happening?
I will answer with a statement by Teriade: “Verve (the magazine) was born in December 1937. In times of agony, such things happen, when there are big crises, when we are really desperate and we do have nothing to lose, or rather, we are afraid that everything will be lost while waiting for disaster … Then at this precise moment everyone is able to act, even to act with passion.”
This anguish we see as people and as a people, I think it crosses our films and our documentaries, where other peoples can easily or inductively recognize their own questions or global issues. Moreover, everything that is deeply personal is global at the same time. I am very happy that my friends and colleagues find the way and show their work at international festivals (and the corresponding market accordingly) and thus show a sample of our culture. I hope and I expect to see “Teriade” in Paris. It would be a great honor and a real pleasure.
*Interview by Magdalini Varoucha. Translation by Nicole Stellos