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Beyond Babylon

   
 

Back to the Future! 

   

 

  

 

The 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!

Beyond 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. 

And 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. 

And 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. 

 

See: Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C.  

 

Tags:  art  museums

 

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