Magazine article New Criterion

"From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete 3000-1100 B.C."

Magazine article New Criterion

"From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete 3000-1100 B.C."

Article excerpt

"From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete 3000-1100 B.C." Onassis Cultural Center, New York. March 13-September 13, 2008.

For the first time, a major show of the art and artifacts of the Minoans, the people in Bronze Age Greece who built the first complex urban civilization of Europe, is being exhibited in America. In spite of the fact that the archaeology of Minoan Crete is well over a century old, much of the information about these enigmatic people remains a mystery. Their origins are obscure, we cannot read their records in spite of several attempts at decipherment, and many details of their culture are still being debated.

One remarkable thing about this exhibition--which features paintings, sculpture, stone vases, pottery, seals, bronzes, and other objects--is the intelligent choice of items included. One expects to see something of Minoan art with its dazzling sense of design that can elevate a day vase with marine creatures on it to the status of high art, but this exhibition also allows the viewer to appreciate the depth of Minoan culture. It includes monumental wall paintings, but it also adds religious symbols, musical instruments, weapons, tools, clay tablets, seals, jewelry, and other items, encouraging the viewer to browse through the rooms and enjoy this exhibition in a serious way.

Specific themes are interwoven within this exhibit, among them the Minoan celebration of nature. The Partridge Fresco, found at the palace of Knossos by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans, illustrates the careful attention to detail that characterizes the Minoan style. In spite of the fragmentary nature of the overall scene, each partridge is posed differently, and each has slight differences in its face: the birds are painted as individuals, not just as examples of a type. For nature on a smaller object, a vase depicts a frontal octopus whose writhing tentacles spread around the head and encircle the rounded vessel. …

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