The first show back for one of the last museums in Chicago to reopen following the COVID-19 shutdown has a royal pedigree.
The featured photographer and artist at the National Hellenic Museum in Greek Town is also a Greek prince.
At the museum, the sounds of nature on a Greek summer night accompany a large-scale photograph of two olive trees on the isle of Milos.
“I want people to come in, get fully immersed and contemplate. I want them to forget about everything that’s bothering them in their lives or even making them happy. I just want them to leave the outside world behind and come inside,” said Prince Nikolaos.
While Greece abolished the monarchy in 1973, Prince Nikolaos is the son of the last king and queen of the country.
At Chicago’s National Hellenic Museum, an exhibition called “Resilience” considers the natural world through a series of vivid abstractions. It was the pandemic project of Prince Nikolaos.
The almost psychedelic effect of some of these abstractions – including this view of the Acropolis – is due to his unusual process.
“I had already photographed certain images, and I then printed those on aluminum, and then I immersed those in a body of water, and then I took a photograph from outside of the water to get the effect, and the effect is the refraction of the colors from the bottom to the surface of the water,” he explains.
The exhibition is based on a quote by Odysseus Celites, a famous Greek poet and Nobel laureate.
“He said if you deconstruct Greece you’ll be left with a vine, an olive tree and a boat, therefore with these three things you can re-construct Greece,” he explains. “So I took that quote and I loosely aligned my exhibition toward that, so there’s a water element, there’s a grape and wine element, there’s an olive oil and olive tree element.”
One image is a photograph he took of the bottom of the sea. It’s actually a mosaic, printed on 272 pieces of recycled plastic.
The prince’s wife offered advice when his early efforts to capture the natural world proved frustrating.
“She said don’t try to capture what your eye sees, try to capture what your soul is feeling and that changed everything,” he said.
Prince Nikolaos is also the godson and cousin of the new King Charles III of the United Kingdom.
“[Queen Elizabeth II’s] been a tremendous person in the history of the country and in the history of the world, because she’s witnessed and been part of so many historical events so she’ll be sorely missed,” he said. “I believe she’d want people to look to the future and in that future you have King Charles right now, who I think will do a tremendous job. He’s a very sensitive individual, and another person who’s also selflessly given himself to the duty of the country, and I think he’ll do a marvelous job.”
VIDEO: Prince Nikolaos of Greece reflected on the death of his relative Queen Elizabeth II.
Back in Chicago, the prince is marking his first North American exhibition.
Incredibly, he does not add color or filters in postproduction on his photographs.
“Everything you see is what I saw, everything you see is what my camera saw. What you see is what you get,” he said. “You can recreate some of these colors, but nature can provide them if you’re in the right place at the right time and you’re patient enough. She will deliver. That’s why I say, nature is the artist, I’m just the messenger.”
The National Hellenic Museum, 333 S. Halsted St., re-opens Friday, Sept. 16.