NEW YORK – The groundbreaking exhibition A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC – 200 AD opens on March 9 at the Onassis Cultural Center New York, located at the Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue at 51st Street in midtown Manhattan.
Bringing to life the emotions of the people of ancient Greece, the exhibition prompts questions about how we express, control, manipulate, or simulate feelings in our own society.
Exclusively at the Onassis Cultural Center, where admission is always free, the exhibition, on view through June 24, brings together more than 130 masterpieces from some of the world’s leading museums—including the Acropolis Museum, Athens; the National Archaeological Museum, Athens; the Musee du Louvre (Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities), Paris; the British Museum, London; and the Musei Vaticani, Vatican City—to explore the ideas and attitudes of people in classical antiquity toward emotion and the ways in which the emotions were depicted, revealing how some are strikingly familiar to us, and some shockingly alien.
Although ancient Greece is often said to have been flooded with the light of reason, A World of Emotions examines the far different reality addressed in the Iliad, whose very first word is menis: wrath.
On March 7, at a press preview of this extraordinary exhibition Onassis Foundation President Dr. Anthony Papadimitriou, Amalia Cosmetatou- Executive Director and Cultural Director of the Onassis Foundation USA, and Greek Minister of Culture and Sports Lydia Koniordou all spoke about the connection between art and emotion and how the ways in which ancient artists depicted emotion in the past tells us a great deal about the ancient world and also about ourselves and contemporary society.
Developed by a team of esteemed guest curators, A World of Emotions features vase paintings, sculpture (ranging from life-size statues from the Acropolis to relief carvings from cemeteries), theatrical masks, amulets, coins, and votive offerings, among other artifacts from the early 7th century BC (the traditional date of the Iliad) to the late 2nd century AD. Many are on view in the United States for the first time, and some are on view for the first time outside Greece. Together, these objects provide a timely opportunity to think about the role of feelings in our own personal, social, and political lives, while helping to advance the relatively new field of the history of emotions.
The spring season at the Onassis Cultural Center New York is dedicated to the theme of emotions to accompany the exhibition with a cross-disciplinary constellation of other artworks, programs, and events.
The large-scale diptych painting, Black Frames, commissioned from multimedia artist Jannis Varelas was installed on the Art Wall in the Onassis Cultural Center New York’s atrium space. The painting is a joyful depiction of emotion, recalling childhood in its vivid colors and free expression. Black Frames provides the viewer with a wonderful counterpoint to the darker depictions of emotion presented in the ancient works on view as you exit the exhibition in the gallery. Varelas told The National Herald that the painting “took two and a half months” to complete.
Dr. Anthony Papadimitriou, President of the Onassis Foundation, said, “A World of Emotions and the programs that accompany it are powerful expressions of the mission of the Onassis Foundation: to support initiatives in education and culture as a means to achieve social cohesion. Although this exhibition is a rare and thoughtful thematic gathering of beautiful and fascinating objects from the ancient world, it is also much more: a contribution toward a better understanding of our present-day reality. We are deeply grateful to our distinguished guest curators for this important exhibition and its revelatory catalogue.”
Greek Minister of Culture Lydia Koniordou, Onassis Foundation President Dr. Anthony Papadimitriou, and Dr. Angelos Chaniotis were among those in attendance at the press preview. Photo by Costas Bej
Amalia Cosmetatou, Executive Director and Cultural Director of the Onassis Foundation USA, said, “Thanks to the brilliant work of our guest curators, A World of Emotions will make an important new contribution to scholarship, while bringing the public into the presence of objects that still have the power to move and astonish more than 2,000 years after they were made.”
The distinguished historian Angelos Chaniotis, co-curator of the exhibition, said, “We cannot directly study neurobiological processes in ancient Greece, but we can see how social norms, religious beliefs, philosophical ideas, and education determined the manifestations of emotions, and how emotions in turn determined social interaction, political behavior, and religious practice. This is our gain from studying emotions in the Greek world. What we learn about emotions in one culture and one historical period helps us understand another. It sharpens our mind to reflect on our lives and our world.”
Chaniotis led a tour for members of the media and spoke about organizing the exhibition and how the emotions grow progressively darker as you move through the gallery. He noted that a clip from a Japanese film version of Medea is also part of the exhibition, highlighting the universality of ancient Greek art and culture. A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC – 200 AD is curated for the Onassis Cultural Center New York by Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History and Classics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; Nikolaos Kaltsas, Director Emeritus, National Archaeological Museum, Athens; and Ioannis Mylonopoulos, Associate Professor of Ancient Greek Art and Archaeology, Columbia University.
Mylonopoulos spoke about the powerful depictions of Medea in vase paintings on display, noting that even archaic works depict emotion if we look closely enough, the curve of an eyebrow or smile shows a great deal. He pointed out the exhibition’s final image, Maria Callas in character onstage, gesturing and displaying powerful emotion as only she could. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by scholars including the co-curators, David Konstan, and Joseph E. LeDoux, as well as contributions from nearly 60 European and American authors.
The exhibition is on view Monday through Saturday, 10 AM to 6 PM, with extended hours on Thursdays until 9 PM, and will also be open to the public on Family Sundays. Guided tours of A World of Emotions take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1 PM and on Thursday evenings at 6 PM.