The Unique Fate of Iolas: i wanted to dance, i became a gallerist

An Eccentric and Eclectic Personality, He Is One of the Most Important Art Dealers of the Twentieth Century

Alexander Iolas was without doubt one of the most important collectors and gallerists of the second half of the twentieth century. A man with an eccentric and eclectic personality, he made his debut as a dancer in Paris, became a friends with the most important artists of the time, therefore an internationally renowned gallerist. Iolas was born in 1907 in Alexandria in Egypt with the name of Constantine Koutsoudis into a Greek family of cotton merchants. He felt drawn to music and dance since he was a child, so much so that at 17 he moved to Paris with the objective of becoming a dancer. At the same time, he remained fascinated by art and became part of the circle of the surrealist group and soon befriended Braque, Man Ray, Picasso and de Chirico. In 1944 he moved to New York where unfortunately a foot injury forced him to give up his ambitions as a dancer. He did not lose heart and, sustained by his great passion for contemporary art, he become the director of the Hugo Gallery in the Big Apple. Iolas summoned his Parisian surrealist friends (Ernst, Magritte, Brauner) and dedicated memorable exhibitions to them. In 1952 it was Andy Warhol’s turn to have his first solo show: a series of drawings inspired by the writing of Truman Capote. Iolas conquered the New York collecting environment and became the art dealer of influential families such as the de Menil.  

A close friendship in Paris with Braque, Man Ray, Picasso and de Chirico

His exhibitions were visionary, to the point of creating a series of locations that also extend to Milan, Madrid, Mexico City. For Athens, he harbored an even more ambitious dream: a house to host the elite of the art world and at the same time to be used as an artists’ residence. Even in this he showed himself a great and lucid visionary. Casa Iolas expanded from a small country  house expanded over time (1965 - 1968) with the construction of successive buildings and pavilions that had never actually been inhabited. The interiors unfold between silver laminate ceilings and walls covered with golden papers from the drawings of Ioannis Kardamatis. Everywhere you look there are contemporary paintings alternating with copies of torsos by Prassitele and Lisippo, interiors and exteriors are covered with dazzling white marble. An atmosphere that director Costa Gavras found suitable for shooting scenes in the film “Family Council” with Fanny Ardant.

Villa Iolas in Athens is an ensemble of silver ceilings, golden walls and dazzling white marbles

His residence attracted unusual and often alternative characters, who created a too much of a sensation for the time to the point that he was attacked by the press. Leaving his beloved Athens, he moved to New York where he did in January 1987. Casa Iolas’ destiny consisted of sad abandonment, it was even sacked and vandalised. To this day it lies like a disfigured work of art with marbles covered with writings and murals. The opportunity to relive these glorious golden moments of Iolas is due to the beautiful initiative of the Tommaso Calabro gallery in Milan with the exhibition of his collection including: Brauner, de Chirico, Niki de Saint Phalle, Ernst, Lucio Fontana, Paul Klee, Yves Klein, Mathieu, Matta, Mattiaci, Pascali, Man Ray, Takis and Tinguely. Another unique aspect is Francesco Vezzoli’s curatorship.

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