In Sophia Vari’s Relief Sculptures, the Modern and the Classic Collide

  • Installation view of “Sophia Vari: In Relief” at Nohra Haime Gallery, New York. Courtesy Nohra Haime Gallery and the artist

    Installation view of “Sophia Vari: In Relief” at Nohra Haime Gallery, New York. Courtesy Nohra Haime Gallery and the artist

Sophia Vari’s latest show comprises an agile, serene series of white wall reliefs—each one a union of modernist, geometric forms and sweeping curves. The exhibition, titled “In Relief” and currently on view at Nohra Haime Gallery, not only unveils the internationally renowned sculptor’s new works, it also marks a considerable feat: the artist’s 100th solo exhibition.

Vari’s new monochromatic sculptures, reminiscent of marble reliefs that decorated walls in Ancient Rome and Greece, represent her ability to fuse classical vocabulary with a contemporary sensibility. The Greek artist, who is now in her 70s, is strongly influenced by ancient and baroque cultures, as well as those of the Mayans and Egyptians. But where classical reliefs may have portrayed gods and kings (and been limited by the constraints of an inflexible material, stone), Vari’s contain fluid swoops and abstract shapes. These panels and tondos, constructed from relatively pliant epoxy, layer smooth, sculptural shapes with crisp edges, often interspersed with hints of spheres and chunky crescents—forms that recall modernist paintings.

These spherical motifs are a mainstay in the artist’s later work, an era that has been marked by cohesive abstract language across her multimedia practice. Vari, who often works on large-scale pieces cast in bronze or rendered in primary colors, also paints and creates fine jewelry. Despite this, she has been quick to note, “I’ve always felt more like a sculptor that paints than a painter that became a sculptor.” Even in this show, which features sculptures that recall paintings, it’s apparent that the artist is fluent in her handling of three-dimensional space. 

In stark white, stripped of other distractions, Vari’s forms come alive through the simple collision of light and shadow. The ductility of the epoxy, and the nimble lines it’s capable of holding, contrast with the heavy associations of the marble it’s meant to evoke. In this interplay of light and darkness, weight and buoyancy, “In Relief” is a fresh exploration of sculpture’s most fundamental elements.


—M. Osberg


In Relief” is on view at Nohra Haime Gallery, New York, Oct. 7–Nov. 14, 2015.


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