Upward Panic
Curated by Rodrigo Ortiz Monasterio
September 22 – October 29, 2022

Haris Epaminonda (Cyprus, 1980)
Rodrigo Hernández (Mexico, 1983)
Jorge Méndez Blake (Mexico, 1974)
Christodoulos Panayiotou (Cyprus, 1978)
Francesco Pedraglio (Italy, 1981)
Tania Pérez Córdova (Mexico, 1979)

“One country alone forms an exception to this general trend toward the perfection of insect routine, and that country is Greece

-Eva Palmer

"Eva Palmer circa 1906, In costume for Natalie's Greek play"

Eva Palmer c. 1906.

In June, 1906, Eva Palmer Sikelianos (1874–1952), an American actress, director, composer, and weaver, decided to flee her relationship with the writer Natalie Barney. After an invitation by dancer Isadora Duncan, she packed her dresses–that she herself had confectioned for the reinterpretation of a Greek play, Equivoque, performed at the famous literary salon Barney held, also known as the Rose salon– and left behind her life in Paris and her partner. In Greece, Palmer met her husband, the Greek poet Angelos Sikelianós, but more importantly, she found her purpose in life: inspiring the ancient Greek culture renaissance.

From 1927 to 1930, Angelos Sikelianós and Palmer created their utopic project in Delphi, the Delphic Festivals, comprised of a series of activities such as Olympic competitions, byzantine music concerts, a popular arts exhibition, and a performance of Prometheus Bound that Eva directed, besides composing the music, fabricating the masks and the costumes. These Festivals sought to gather people around and through arts, dance, theatre, and dance, and to spread a message of harmony among people from different ethnical origins, religions, and political views.

"Natalie Barney and Colette, c. 1906, photo by Cautin and Berger, Paris"

Natalie Barney y Colette, c. 1906, fotografía por Cautin y Berger, París.

Nevertheless, after the first Festival in 1927, the project faced many hindrances. Palmer had spent all of her fortune funding the festival, which led the couple to sell their house. Shortly afterwards, she was forced to abandon Greece to move to New York. In her apartment in New York, she funded the Delphic Circle, a literary salon that sought the renaissance of the ancient Greek culture and became a hub for artists of all kinds, writers, architects–Claude Bragdon, José Clemente Orozco, Anita Brenner, and José Juan Tablada among them–who had a shared interest in Greek philosophy and the Teosophical movement.

Upward Panic takes the eccentric life of Eva Palmer and the Delphic Festivals projects as a starting point. The artists and characters gathered by this exhibition were directly or indirectly brought together by the project that later gave origin to the Delphic Studios gallery. Thus, and through a dialogue with archival material, works from the OMR collection and contemporary works that establish a link to Palmer’s ideologies, Upward Panic builds a narrative about the evolution and transcendence of the Theosophical movement, the development of art exhibition spaces, and the Sapphic feminism Palmer championed.

Photos courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives. Images #SIA2015-006917; #SIA2017-061362;#SIA2017-061363.