Reviews of A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC - 200 AD
The Onassis Cultural Center itself tends to stir an emotion: gratitude. It’s some kind of gift outright. Tucked away below street level in Olympic Tower — you have to know it’s there to find it — and charging no admission, it brings in top-shelf art from Greece, supplemented by choice international loans. The current show draws on the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the Acropolis Museum and Greek regional museums, as well as the Louvre, the British Museum and the Met.
The results aren’t necessarily full-fledged ‘masterpiece’ shows. This one isn’t. It’s a mix. There are true glam items — an apparitionally perfect marble kouros; a cup attributed to the great Penthesilea Painter — but also homely ones: pottery shards with inscriptions, that kind of thing. It’s what the show does with the material that really counts: It uses objects to tell a human story, one that changes our view of the past, brings it into the present; makes it ours. This is precisely what an object-rich museum like the Met could be doing with its undervisited permanent collections, but rarely does.
Get a new view of the ancient Greeks and get in touch with your feelings in the process in the exhibition A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC-200 AD (until 24 June) at the Onassis Cultural Center New York. “I think most people are going to feel that the objects they see also address questions, problems and phenomena that are universal,” the show’s curator, Angelos Chaniotis, says of the display of around 130 items from antiquity, including life-sized statues, pottery, coins and funerary art.
If the past is a different country because they do things differently there, the emotions of the past might be a passport in. The first word of Western literature names an emotion: wrath. The Iliad is indeed a story of emotions twisted up to tautness and their fatal unspooling. The reasons for Achilles' implacable wrath are distant, but the fact that we too can be peeved, vexed, angry, furious, incensed, and possibly even wrathful gives us a way into the bronze age. Or something even more foreign: the heart of another person.
We think of the art of ancient Greece as the epitome of serene beauty and refinement, but a new exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York reveals how often deep, even combustible, feelings were expressed in the artifacts of the Hellenic civilization. A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC–200 AD features more than 130 masterpieces from numerous international museums, many on view in the United States for the first time, including sculptural works in marble, bronze, and clay; red and black figured pottery; and a collection of ostrakons, the ceramic shards used as ballots when voting on whether a public figure should be banished—also the source of the word ostracize. The works tell stories of profound loss, the lust and rage of the gods, the destructive powers of envy, and of the cunning politicians who used fear and hope to manipulate the people.
Throughout the exhibition’s revelatory collection of marble and terracotta relics, many of which have never traveled to the U.S., one sees the delicate ways in which Greek painters communicated extreme swings of emotion through gesture, formally innovating on the lekythos, amphora, and hydria (terms given to variously shaped jugs for mixing and serving wine).
There are just too many artworks to report on all of them, or to speak to all the emotions of the creators. It seems a shame that with all the work—and the love—that obviously went into this show that it will last only a short time. It seems worthy of a permanent home somewhere. But these flowerings are rare, so try to get yourself to New York, and thank the creators of these magical works.
Tucked in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Cathedral off Fifth Avenue – another irony as the Classical and Christian worlds have always had an uneasy relationship – the center is a gift to us neoclassicists, offering as it does thought-provoking shows, related programs and handsome brochures all free of charge. Bravo to the Center for remaining a serene oasis of ancient culture in bustling midtown for a nation that has passed much of that culture by.
Exhibitions are meant to move the viewer. To inspire, to provoke, and to make him or her inquire, ponder—even laugh and cry. On display in midtown Manhattan are 130 ancient Greek objects that together—and even separately, do all of the above, and then some, by introducing the viewer to the way ancient Greeks expressed themselves and exposed their raw emotions and humanity.