Sunday, December 27, 2015

Impressive Works Impressively Displayed

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through March 20, 2016

I'm hardly alone in recommending a trip to the National Gallery's latest blockbuster show; the Washington Post recently had a rave review, and if you Google the show title and "review," you'll turn up many other articles. I feel as if I'm just joining my voice to the chorus, but will do so anyway, because to ignore this show would be wrong.  Very wrong indeed.

When one thinks of classical sculpture, one things of marble, as that is what has survived.  Bronze, however, was a far more common medium of artistic expression.  Sadly, it was often melted down and turned into more mundane objects, so we're left with relatively few examples of this particular Hellenistic art.  Add to that the tendency of classical objects to be lost, whether on land or sea, and the modern world's ignorance of bronze sculpture is understandable.

Happily, the National Gallery's show allows you to fill this gap in your knowledge, and you should make a point of doing so before the show ends in mid-March.  It's not just that the works themselves are wonderful, although they are; it's that the design of the show is wonderful as well.  The use of backdrops to position the works in their original settings is effective - you almost feel yourself transported back to ancient Greece.  The works are spread out across enough rooms that you never feel crowded; each work has the space it needs to be appreciated.

The show begins with a bang - the "Getty Bronze" dominates the first room of the show and was my personal favorite piece.  Lucky are the residents of southern California who can see this work on a regular basis.  This is just the start of a collection of 50 of the most significant bronzes in the world.

Most of the works are missing the eyes of the statute, which were made of substances  less likely to withstand the ravages of time than bronze.  Without eyes, the pieces, especially those that are only heads, look like masks - as if you could put the piece on and become a citizen of a vanished world.

Those with eyes command your attention - they stare out at you with an energy you cannot ignore.  You feel a real connection with a world very far away from our own, both in time and distance.  That's one of the things I love about antiquities - you realize that, no matter how long ago artists lived, they were human beings, capable of observing life around them and creating beauty from what they saw.

Verdict: What are you waiting for?  Get out and see this show!

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