Preview of Taverna Rebetika: A Conversation with Anita Rogers / by Victoria Michelotti

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Curator Caroline Spang sat down with Gallery Owner and Director, Anita Rogers, ahead of Taverna Rebetika, an annual celebration of Greek culture taking place Dec 1 at the Anita Rogers Gallery.

How does your background and experience living in Greece influence the artists and work featured in the Anita Rogers Gallery? 

My parents held 1960s values. They were free spirits, educated and open humanitarians who valued folk culture. My father moved to Greece in 1962. The mentality and culture in 1980s Greece reflected 1960s Western Europe: unspoiled and carefree. This was a time when the art world had more universal meaning and depth - before the mass market idea had really taken over. My values are rooted in this time and these memories.

I approach the gallery from an artist’s point of view as I was raised by an artist who understood art as something that was in search of truth, searching to understand what it means to be human, exploring that which connects us deeply as humans, almost approaching the metaphysical but while staying rooted in the human experience and truth. This shaped my values and approach to running a gallery in NYC. I choose artists whose visual abilities are exceptional and whose aesthetic approach and philosophical ideas are in line with the beliefs I described and in line with the values that were held, as I remember them, pre-mass media and before the contemporary art scene became more of a mockery and the overblown financial marketplace that it is now.

What is your process of selecting artists to work with? 

I can tell very quickly when I look at the work in person. I judge by looking at the work and engaging with it. The work will speak for itself. Finding artists good enough is the most challenging part of running the gallery. There has been a culture of “anything can be art” for some time. This lack of discernment results in having to wade through so much work to even start to find potential fits for us. We are only interested in art we feel has the right essence—that which will withstand the test of time. We call ourselves “incubators.” 

What is your favorite memory of growing up in Greece?

My father playing the bouzouki one afternoon with a Greek priest and six fishermen. We (my Mum, Dad and me) were in the village of an island called Tzia (Kea), which was quite sleepy as it was a hot afternoon during siesta time. Little by little, the locals came out of their homes and joined in. They opened up the local taverna and as it filled up, the locals brought their own chairs, tables and food to the square where we were playing. By evening the entire square was filled with people, both locals and tourists, drinking, eating and dancing. Other musicians joined in and I did all the singing. Hundreds of locals and tourists joined the party by late evening. The music continued through the night. At 5am we went to the island mayor’s house to play and I sang outside his window to wake him up! We then moved to the island doctor’s house and carried on playing all day. No sleep—just 30 plus hours of music. It was amazing. 

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How did you begin making music? How would you describe the role of music in Greek culture?

I began singing in nightclubs in Turkey from the age of nine. My father was a lutenist, bouzouki player and guitarist so I began singing with him from a very young age. Music is a way of living in the moment; this is especially true of Greek music. Music reflects the culture of the country it is from. Greeks have a great ability to let go and accept. Subsequently the freedom one can experience living in the joy of “now” is experienced with Greek music. Tomorrow and yesterday don’t matter for a while! My mother upholds these values and to this day lives happily in acceptance most of the time. She makes the most of every moment. Her father was a successful businessman, her grandfather was an art dealer and her grandmother was an opera singer. I am lucky to have become a mixture of all three.

I later was classically trained and had a career in opera in Italy and the UK, and I also play the classical and Celtic harp. Music and art shape my life and are at the root of all my values. I feel very lucky to have this level of depth and substance in my life. It helps the stress of running businesses dissipate, as I know nothing can take music and art away from me. I’ll always be able to play and sing and appreciate and understand the visual world.  

What are your go-to Greek restaurants in NYC?

I eat at Kiki’s on the Lower East Side. Everything on their menu is amazing. Pylos is also great. Tyrokafteri (spicy feta cheese dip) is a favorite. Kyklades in Astoria is also fantastic, even though it isn’t run by Greeks.

Upcoming at Anita Rogers Gallery: Taverna Rebetika