pleasures of the Metropolitan Museum as it sits there like some
shipwreck at the edge of the ocean of Central Park offering up its
treasures to be plundered. One can rummage amongst ancient
artifacts, or wander through rooms filled with Louis XIV or Frank
Lloyd Wright furniture. Spend an hour with the French
Impressionists or look at the Vermeers in the solitary splendor of
an afternoon. With suggested admission (which is even more
delightful in times like these), it offers up itself to be picked
through, repeatedly . . . asks that we keep returning like
scavengers up the grand stairs!
Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. at
the Met offers up its own inventory to be sifted through.
Babylon, the ancient city, which gave us the word babel with all
its allusions to a confusion of languages and its hints of trade
and interaction between cultures. And Babylon also gave the
English language the adjective Babylonian with its sense of luxury
and dissolution. Babylon of the Hanging Gardens was the
nexus of the Near-East and Mediterranean area during the Bronze
Age (2200-800 B.C.), coming to prominence under Hammurabi, and is
the starting point of the show which attempts to explore the
complexities of trade and art and the interactions within the
region when it was the vibrant hub of an early global
economy. The very notion of the Bronze Age is indicative of
the idea of trade - bronze is an alloy made from copper and tin
which are rarely found together, and trade was needed for the
creation of bronze. There are more than 300 objects in the
show, pieces that were personal as well as those used for trade or
barter that were carried over the seas and along trade routes to
foreign lands. They carry with them aromas from a distant
time, memories of bazaars in the sun and bustling ports, the scent
of history itself.
so the Metropolitan in miniature in this show - objects to ponder:
minimalist votive figures from Byblos that look vaguely futuristic
in cone-shaped hats; a mold-formed glass flask shaped like a
pomegranate, an early fertility image; falcon-headed griffins that
were associated with the sun-god in Egyptian iconography, sphinxes
and other supernatural creatures, beak-spouted pottery with the
proboscis of birds of prey from Anatolia. And within the
show are the treasures of another vessel, the Late Bronze Age
merchant ship Uluburun that encapsulates the idea of the
show. It traveled through the countries of the Near East,
from Greece to Egypt through the Mediterranean and the Aegean
Seas. On display are some of the relics recovered from the
shipwreck, from glass ingots to pottery, including a female figure
holding onto a ivory-billed duck as they swim together.
Whimsical and charming and suddenly, a day in New York at the end
of 2008 is different - there's a resonance, echoes from the past,
a consciousness of the arc of time.
perhaps it is a symbol for these Babylonian days, of another early
global era and its dark times and also a reminder that the future
awaits, of the inexorable currents that move relentlessly forward
- the idea of swimming along the river of time itself.
Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C.