published 5.06.2019

Life Without Tragedy by Kostis Velonis Opens On Governors Island

For Immediate Release
May 3, 2019 


Exhibition on Governors Island Immediately Follows the Work’s Debut, on Astor Place, in Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming, Presented by Onassis USA and The Public Theater

Onassis USA is pleased to announce that celebrated artist Kostis Velonis’s large-scale sculptural work Life Without Tragedy has now been installed on Governors Island, where it will remain on view, free of charge, from May 2 to October 31, 2019. Life Without Tragedy, developed with architect Christian Kotzamanis and initially created for the acclaimed Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming (during which it could be seen on Astor Place, April 10-30, free of charge), explores the intersection of democracy and theater—perhaps Greece’s two greatest contributions. The work consists of three wood sculptures that mimic an ancient Greek amphitheater, a place that was a social institution and a site for political discourse as well as a venue for art. 

The Greek amphitheater is a phenomenon and physical space rich with political, democratic import. Theatrical performances were, in Athenian democracy, deeply rooted in the polity and its institutions. The actors and members of the chorus were citizens, and a gathering in the theater functioned as an ecclesia (an assembly of the citizens). The theater, although it was established during the period of the tyrants, became a site of democracy, as it flourished in parallel with the democratic system of government. Democracy liberated ancient Greek tragedy from its religious nature, giving it a more anthropocentric and political character. And within the theater, Athenians participated in dialogue and debate about ideas.
Life Without Tragedy exemplifies Onassis USA’s evolution into a formidable contemporary producer and presenter of arts-and-ideas programs that substantially contribute to timely national and international conversations. The organization has explored democracy in recent programming include Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming, presented with The Public Theater; Onassis Festival 2018: The Birds, A Festival Inspired by Aristophanes; the Speaking Truth to Power series in collaboration with the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and the 2018 revival of The Gospel at Colonus, the Lee Breuer / Bob Telson landmark, at the Delacorte Theater, in collaboration with The Public Theater.

Vallejo Gantner, the recently announced Artistic and Executive Director of Onassis USA, says, “Kostis did us proud, and we are so happy that this bold piece has found its place. Created for an urgent festival of arts and democracy this work evokes so many values we hold dear—dialogue, debate, participation, and the arts. We’re immensely grateful that Life Without Tragedy has found a home on Governors Island, and proud to be partnering with this vital new piece of NYC’s cultural ecosystem.”
Karen Brooks Hopkins, Onassis USA Senior Advisor, says, “As a board member of both Onassis USA and Governors Island, I’m thrilled that these two great organizations are partnering to give hundreds of thousands of visitors an additional opportunity to view this work.”

Governors Island plays a unique role in New York City’s cultural landscape, providing a one-of-a-kind platform for artists, cultural organizations and educators to create groundbreaking and experiential programming. Public art commissioned by both outside organizations and the Trust for Governors Island has connected hundreds of thousands of visitors with groundbreaking contemporary artworks in an accessible, natural environment. Looking forward, Governors Island is envisioned as an unparalleled venue for free public art in New York City that allows diverse audiences to deeply engage with immersive, thoughtful, challenging, whimsical and experimental works in open green areas and historic architecture, all against the backdrop of the Harbor and skyline. 

“We are thrilled to host Kostis Velonis’s work on the Island at Picnic Point, a site deeply connected to NY Harbor’s iconic symbols of democracy and political discourse,” said Meredith Johnson, VP of Arts and Culture at the Trust for Governors Island. “Through Onassis USA’s generosity, hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Island will have the opportunity to engage with this work and the important conversations ignited by the Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming.” 

Life Without Tragedy will be on view every day during the 2019 season at Picnic Point, located on the Island’s southern tip. Governors Island is open every day from May 1 through October 31. On weekdays, the Island is open from 10am to 6pm. On weekends and holidays, the Island is open from 10am to 7pm. On Friday and Saturday evenings between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, the Island will be open until 10pm. For ferry schedules and more information, visit

About Kostis Velonis

Kostis Velonis (born 1968) is an artist known for exploring the dystopia of unrealized Modernist and avant-garde projects. His sculptures, paintings, and large-scale installations are best characterized as craft-based compositions that construct allegories from the complex relations of history, class, identity, and the conflicts of the human soul. Velonis holds an MRes in Humanities and Cultural Studies from London Consortium (Birkbeck College, ICA, AA, Tate). He studied Arts Plastiques/Esthétiques at Université Paris 8 (D.E.A) and he earned his PhD from the Department of Architecture, N.T.U.A University of Athens.

About Onassis USA
Founded in 2000, Onassis USA was the first international affiliate of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation. For over 19 years, it has been dedicated to culture, community, and education, with projects that can effectively inspire social change and justice across borders. By collaborating with Onassis Stegi in Athens and educational and cultural institutions throughout the Americas, Onassis USA presents theatrical and dance productions, art exhibits, conversations, lectures, and other initiatives, triggering discussions about democratic values, human rights, civil rights, and the ever-changing realities facing today’s citizens on a global scale. Onassis USA runs through two major initiatives, one cultural for the general public through its Onassis Cultural Center New York, and the other educational for scholars and students in partnership with educational institutions through the Onassis Humanities Impact Program.

About Governors Island

Governors Island is a popular seasonal destination open to the public May 1-October 31. For almost two centuries, the Island was closed to the public, operating as a military base for the U.S. Army and, later, the Coast Guard. Today, an award-winning new park is complemented by dozens of unique historic buildings, educational and cultural facilities, a rich arts and culture program and a 22-acre National Monument managed by the National Park Service. Looking ahead, the Island will be activated year-round as a sustainable campus for learning and entrepreneurship, with plans for expanded commercial and non-profit uses in its future.

About The Trust for Governors Island

The Governors Island Corporation, doing business as The Trust for Governors Island, is the 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization created by the City of New York and charged with the planning, redevelopment, and ongoing operations of 150 acres of Governors Island. The Trust’s mission is to transform Governors Island into a vibrant resource for New York City, making the Island a destination with extraordinary public open space, as well as educational, not-for-profit, and commercial facilities.

Funding Credits

Life Without Tragedy was commissioned and produced by Onassis Culture and debuted as part of the Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming, presented by Onassis USA and The Public Theater. During the festival, the work was located in Astor Place South Plaza and presented in partnership with the New York City Department of Transportation’s Art Program and The Village Alliance.

Life Without Tragedy is a generous gift from Onassis USA to Governors Island.

Press Contacts

For Onassis USA: Blake Zidell, Blake Zidell & Associates: 718.643.9052 or
For The Trust for Governors Island: Sarah Krautheim, Vice President, Public Affairs: 212.440.2226 or