Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Special Exhibition: A World Of Emotions — Ancient Greece, 700 BC - 200 AD

Exhibition View
We New Yorkers like to talk about the many "secret" activities and events found throughout the city. And it's easy to understand why there are so many of these hidden things to see and experience, when you think about how many people live in New York or come into the city either as visitors or for work. There is a significant critical mass for experiencing what the city has to offer.

Yet many of these lesser-known activities get plenty of excellent publicity, and their sponsoring organizations work hard to get the word out. So I'm always surprised to see how much many of us miss. I suppose it’s because there’s so much on offer, and we just can’t keep up with all that’s available.

The work of the Onassis Cultural Center in Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue (at 51st Street) is a good example of what I’m describing. The excellence of the programs and exhibitions at the center is noteworthy, and I think these events are well attended, but somehow (through no fault of the center) many of us just don't know about them and we tend to forget about watching for what's coming up at the center. 

The current exhibition — the 17th, I've been told — opened to us on March 9, and now, having just discovered it, I want to tell all my friends about it and give you an idea of how impressed I was with what’s on at the Onassis Cultural Center just now. The exhibition ends on June 24, so if you're a fan of ancient Greek art, you want to take a look at A World of Emotions — Ancient Greece, 700 BC - 200 AD. Make a point of getting over to the Olympic Tower. 

Boy with a Goose
(Photo: National Archaeological
The idea behind the exhibition is to invite us, as visitors, to think about the role of emotion in our lives. At the same time the exhibition provides an opportunity to give attention to how all the many emotions we experience, “in our interpersonal relations, in private life, in the public sphere, and in religious worship” (as described in the exhibition’s very well-written guide) penetrate everything we do and contribute totally to all art and literature. So the exhibition gives us an opportunity to connect what we know and experience about our own emotions with what we can now learn about their role in ancient Greek life and behavior. 

It’s not possible to describe all of the beautiful objects on display in the exhibition. Of course there are the sweet innocent pleasures, satisfying just to look at (such as the famous Boy with a Goose, a third-century BC sculpture from the National Archaeological Museum, Athens). Once I looked at it the other day I immediately remembered how much I loved it when I saw it at the museum back in — I think it was — 1981 or so). Equally thrilling are some of the beautiful and often very moving depictions of funerary and commemorative steles. Indeed, the descriptions of the role of cemeteries and death in the lives of the ancient Greeks are touchingly described in the section on grief.

Naturally much attention is given over to drama, the art so often performed for the Greeks and comprising — as we all know — a big part of their life. One section of the exhibition is titled “Enslaved by Emotions” and I really liked one thesis put forward in this section: “The earliest and most emblematic text of Greek literature, the Iliad (ca. 700 BC) has an emotion as its subject: Achilles’ uncontrolled indignation, caused by an insult.” Immediately following is a section — certainly linked to emotions that enslave — about Medea. I was impressed by the description and visuals of (and wished I had been able to witness) a 1984 Japanese all-male staging produced by the Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa. And for opera lovers like me, it was real trip down memory lane to see the commentary about Maria Callas (including a fantastic oversize photograph of her in her perhaps-most-famous operative role). 

For me the exhibition also provided the great pleasure of connecting some of what I’ve experienced in my past with what is on display here, and I’m very satisfied with what I’ve seen in A World of Emotions. As I think about some of what I’ve learned in my own classical studies (although I am definitely no expert or authority, I can assure you), I find with this exhibition that I’m looking at wonderful depictions of many of the stories and myths I grew up with and learned about as I was educated. And what I kept hearing about and learning about throughout my adult life as I played with “the classics.” Certainly one of my endeavors of a few years ago returned vividly to mind as I viewed this exhibition, as many of the displayed items brought back happy memories of a long journey throughout Greece in the 1980s. On that trip I took along the fairly recent and much-lauded Robert Fitzgerald translation the Iliad and Odyssey. For me, reading these made ancient Greece came alive, even more so than I had experienced in previous trips. This exhibition helped me remember that time with even more pleasure.

Exhibition hours are Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri, and Sat: 10 AM - 6 PM (Thu from 10 AM - 9 PM). Find time to visit Onassis Cultural Center before June 24. 

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