Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rescued

Finally made it to the Old Europe exhibition I read about last year. Very glad I did. (It redeemed a trip uptown whose other part - the aimless Otto Dix show at the Neue Galerie - didn't do it for me.) Amazing artifacts, some 7000 years old, from museums in Romania, Moldova and
Ukraine, attest to a civilization which apparently had the largest settlements anywhere in the world at the time. The pottery was what set my friend J and me atitter with its remarkable geometrical patterns, like the Globular Vessel With Lid (Cucuteni, Scânteia, 4200-4050 BCE) and the Biconical Vessel (Cucuteni, Şipeniţ, 3700-3500 BCE) below:
(We were struck by the eyepopping parallels with ancient Chinese and Native American pottery.) Wish I could show you more, but the Times article, only source of images I could find, doesn't have many more. (This Cucuteni pot and "Architectural Model" are from a very helpful map.) The slide show includes another Architectural Model (Gumelniţa, Căscioarele, 4600-3900 BCE) which might give a sense of what dwellings looked like. Most remarkable in their way were the doll-sized figurines, mysterious and in places tender and even witty. The set of 21 Figurines and 13 Chairs at the top of this post (Cucuteni, Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru, 4900-4750 BCE) was described in the exhibit itself as a Council of Goddesses! The figure above (Gumelniţa, Sultana, 4600-3900 BCE), in what's apparently a recurring arm position - he has his chin in one hand, his elbow in the other - is young compared to the "screaming" Anthropomorphic Vessel below (Banat, Parţa, 5300-5000 BCE):

The stars of the show, however, are unquestionably the expressive and super-elegant 'Thinker' and Female Figurine (Hamangia, Cernavodă, 5000-4600 BCE) - also fired clay but looking like carved obsidian. It's always thrilling to see that the earliest forms of art were stylized, not realistic, suggesting that modern art is no decadent flight from reality but a recovery of long (actually not so long) obscured forms of experience. "The Thinker" is probably mourning, but if he were thinking be might be thinking this land was Brancusi land long before Brancusi!

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