New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: GANP/Dimitrios Panagos
Were emotions in ancient Greece the same as ours today? “A World of Emotions, Ancient Greece, 700 BC – 200 AD”, at the Onassis Cultural Center through June 24, 2017, makes clear that the answer tends toward yes. But the emotions depicted through various attributes of the 130 works in this major exhibition also say much more, Dr. Anthony S. Papadimitriou, President of the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation noted at the exhibition’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 8. “Altogether, the impressive array of artworks you are about to see invites reflection on the significance of emotions in ancient Greece first, but finally–and perhaps more profoundly–on our own cultures as lived and felt today…This exhibition is relevant to this exact moment in time. Unmistakable upset is running loose in the world today. Fear, anger, and mistrust seem to permeate the public sphere in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Maybe because emotions are so powerful and so essential to human interaction, we fail to notice how influential they are and always have been. Aristotle Onassis, the founder of the Onassis Foundation, echoes this sentiment perfectly in the following quote, ’I made one great mistake. I never thought that in our world, emotions could override all business reason.”
“Though the emotions you are about to see emanate from ancient faces, they are no less powerful for what they communicate. And that, in the end, is the point”, he continued, “Showcasing the relevance of the classical tradition in today’s world is the core of the Onassis Foundation’s mission,” he continued, “In these times, when our common humanistic heritage is questioned, we should return to these sources…And I hope this comparison between ancient Greece and life in the 21st century will inspire you to leave our gallery with a deeper understanding of Classical Antiquity and a re-awakened awareness of our current social and cultural environment in lieu of emotions.”
Papadimitriou thanked the curators Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient Hand Classics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; Nicholas Kaltsas, Director Emeritus, National Archaeological Museum, Athens; Ioannis Mylonopoulos, Associate Professor of Ancient Greek Art, Architecture, and Archaeology; Amalia Cosmetatou, Executive Director and Director of Cultural Affairs of the Onassis Cultural Center; Lydia Koniordou, Greek Minister of Culture and Sports, whose “ministry is not only entrusted with the preservation of Greece’s cultural heritage, but with sharing its riches so that people outside Greece may engage directly with the best of ancient art; the many institutions in Europe and the United States and their directors for supporting the project “with their most treasured ancient masterpieces”; and artist Jannis Varelas’ for his commissioned artwork, Black Frames (exhibited in the Atrium’s Art Wall), “which serves as a contemporary counterbalance to the ancient art in the gallery, shedding light on the timelessness of emotions as an inspirational force”.
Immediately after the ribbon-cutting the three curators toured the exhibition with the Minister of Culture, Archbishop Demetrios and official guests, followed by a reception and then a gala dinner.
At the dinner, Cosmetatou congratulated the curators and stressed that the Onassis Foundation in New York is fully committed to the promotion of the importance and continuity of Greek Culture. “Our work is academically and socially very important,” she added. Cosmetatou conceived of and organized this unique exhibition as a result of being inspired by Professor Angelos Chaniotis’ research project, which among other things, analyzed the ancient Greek’s display of emotions in public, private and divine relationships.
Speaking at the dinner, Chaniotis said that point of the exhibition is not to study the art and culture of Ancient Greece in order to understand emotions, but we study emotions in order to understand the art and culture of Ancient Greece… if you visit the exhibition and feel something, an emotion, it just shows the importance, the universality and the timeless value of Greek culture.” One of the main goals of the Onassis Foundation and of this exhibition, he said, “is to create a dialogue between past and present.”
“Our Western culture is a difficult crossroads. We leave behind the world we knew and move toward an uncertain future. There is a lot of anger and frustration today. We have to redefine our common values in order to preserve what for centuries, mankind has worked and struggled for,” said Minister of Culture Koniordou in her speech, naming “Greek culture’s great contributions to the world, dialogue, freedom of thought, expression, belief, the confrontation of ideas, acceptance of the other…all the values that are the foundation of the Republic and its institutions.” “The Greek state is the guardian of Greece’s cultural heritage and is ready to stand by any effort that aims to enlighten the world community about the beauty of Greek culture,” she said, praising the Onassis Foundation, “which strongly supports both generously both ancient and modern Greek culture in Greece and the world as one of the most important allies and sponsors of this effort. The Onassis Foundation and the Ministry of Culture can only be a staunch ally in this important initiative.” Minister Koniordou congratulated the Onassis Foundation for “A World of Emotions, Ancient Greece, 700 BC – 200 AD”, calling the exhibition a sign of the dialectic of the Greek spirit, balancing heart and necessity in an endless play between light and shadow, life and death.”
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios congratulated the Onassis Foundation for presenting major exhibitions annually throughout his 18-year tenure in New York, contrary to modern Greeks’ general tendency toward inconsistency. “This is not an easy task,” he noted, as the exhibitions feature authentic artifacts borrowed from the most important museums in the world, and for this, “the Onassis Foundation deserves the gratitude of all Hellenism”. Archbishop Demetrios also explained that the Greeks’ addition of vowels to the consonants used by Phoenicians for writing, made poetic meter, thus lyric poetry possible. In other words, “the Greeks invented poetry.”
The ceremony and dinner were attended by the Permanent Representatives of Greece and Cyprus to the UN, Ekaterini Boura and Cornelius Cornelius, respectively, Ambassador Dennis Kalamvrezos. Minister Plenipotentiary-Deputy Permanent Representative at Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations, Consul General of Greece Constantinos Koutras and Mrs. Koutras, Consul General of Cyprus Vasilios Philippou and Mrs. Philippou, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, former Executive Director of the Onassis Cultural Center, Daniel and Susan Kershaw, among others.
The Onassis Foundation’s educational programs bring the classics not only into universities teaching the humanities, but also to business, and medical and science schools.