Two-Way Archetypes

Article excerpt

* A spectacular two-way cultural exchange has brought an unprecedented treasure trove of museum objects from the countries of the former Soviet Union to Western audiences, while giving Russians in return sight of a selection from one of the most distinguished private collections of antiquity in the West.

|From the Treasuries of Eurasia' is an exhibition which opened in Zurich this spring, comprising 170 objects from the former Soviet Union selected by the connoisseur George Ortiz, while Ortiz' own collection of antiquities from the Neolithic period to late Byzantium has provided 280 pieces for an exhibition currently on show at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, having first opened at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

What makes the |Treasuries of Eurasia' exhibition particularly unusual and interesting is that many of the works come from museums outside the Pushkin/ Hermitage axis which has traditionally been the main source for exhibits in the West. Exquisite sixth and fifth-century BC classical pottery from the Black Sea, now in the National Museum in Kiev, the sculpted head of a third-century BC Kuschian prince from Tashkent, and intricately-wrought gold and be-gemmed Sarmatian armbands and jewellery from the first and second centuries BC, now in the museum at Rostov on the Don, are among the treasures that have come as a result of this more catholic approach.

Ortiz has spent nearly six years orchestrating the complex two-way swap and personally chose the items, in an attempt, he says, to show aspects of as many of the historical cultures present in the former Soviet Union as well as doing justice to the important collections assembled before the 1917 Revolution. |I looked for the finest aesthetic examples -- I tried to be as fair to each culture as possible by including at least three to four examples from each, but also I worked on instinct -- many of the items I chose at a glance'.

The project was launched of course before the upheavals that led to the break-up of the Soviet Union, and Ortiz believes that the complexities that have ensued as a result make it likely that this exhibition will be unique. Some of the objects -- such as a winged human-faced sphinx from the Urartu empire -- (which covered an area stretching out as far as the present day Siberia) will not travel abroad again because of their fragility. The exhibition is also very much 'state-of-the-art' in giving visitors a glimpse of exciting recent archaeological finds -- such as a delicately-cast fourth century BC gold helmet with Scythians in low relief, found in 1988 and now in the museum at Kiev. …