Your Art Weekend: Pergamon at the Met – Sugarlift

Your Art Weekend: Pergamon at the Met

Posted by Bowen Dunnan /

This weekend we’re heading to the Met to check out Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World before it closes for good on Sunday the 17th! And while we’re there we’ll head up to the roof to have a few drinks and visit Cornelia Baker’s Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)

 

Pergamon The Met
Courtesy of The New York Times.

 

THE ART 

Like many of the Met’s most memorable exhibitions, “Pergamon” is huge and wide-ranging. There are more than 200 pieces in many different media, all connected to the royal courts of the Hellenistic kingdoms that emerged in the wake of Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC. About one-third of the objects came from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, and the show takes the ancient city of Pergamon, a city in present-day Turkey, as its centerpiece. 

 

Pergamon The Met
Courtesy of The Met.

 

What made Alexander’s empire so historic was its massive size (it stretched from Greece and Egypt to the Indus River Valley) and the diversity of the cultures it included. The dynasties that followed Alexander’s rule followed his example, and the leaders of the Attalid dynasty in Pergamon spent decades finding the best artisans and thinkers from three continents and bringing them together at their own version of Athens’ acropolis. This exhibition sets out to evoke that same sense of scale and cross-cultural possibility, and it succeeds again and again. You find examples of cultural exchange both obvious (Asian elephants showing up on a painted Greek urn) and subtle (the Persian tradition of painting lion hunts mixed with the Greek myth of Heracles), and each object seems to make its neighbors more interesting and more beautiful. 

 

Pergamon The Met
Courtesy of The Met.

 

The great achievement of this exhibition is that it manages to imitate Pergamon itself by serving as the center of a huge web of artistic and cultural ideas. You can start here and end up thinking about ancient Persia, 19th century archaeology (and Indiana Jones), the philosophy of Aristotle, Homer’s epics, Alexander’s military campaigns, the ways Hellenistic royal families chose to support artists, ancient Athenian drama, the Greek influence on Roman sculpture, and on and on and on. But this isn’t just a history lesson disguised as an art show. Ignore all of the little white labels and you will still be astounded by the beauty of these objects: the Pergamene Athena, fifteen feet tall in sandals; the gorgeous and unsettling trumpet made of bone (!) and bronze; the colossal head of a youth that seems to be somehow more perfect for having been sliced in half sometime in the last two millennia. 

 

Pergamon The Met
Courtesy of The Met.

 

You might walk away from this exhibition thinking about how classical Greece was never a standalone culture, about the interconnectedness of peoples, about the ways art can reveal this to us; you might walk away wanting more, and heading downstairs to the innumerable galleries full of ancient marble and bronze; you might look over the photos you’ve taken of all this art and just stare again at its timeless beauty. You will probably do all three, and be thankful for this huge museum in our city, with its seemingly limitless supply of money and curatorial energy, which — like Pergamon itself, two thousand years ago — can bring together so many beautiful pieces of stone and metal and painted clay from all over the world and place them (once again) in front of our satisfied eyes. 

 

Pergamon The Met
Courtesy of The Met.

 

WHAT TO DO AFTER 

Head up to the Met Roof Garden to grab a few drinks and see Cornelia Baker’s Transitional Object (PsychoBarn), an architectural sculpture inspired by Edward Hopper and the creepy house from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Baker built the house — which, as though fresh from a Hollywood soundstage, is really just two walls and a bunch of hidden scaffolding — using materials from an actual red barn. The idea is to contrast the wholesome Americana of a stereotypical red barn with the psychological darkness of the Psycho house, and seeing all that deconstructed rural wood taking up space in the skyline in front of the boringly futuristic skyscrapers near Central Park South makes the whole thing click even further.  

 

The Met Psycho House
Courtesy of Wired.


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