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NY. Cross-Cultural Connections to be Explored in Thematic Displays at The Met

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A set of new collection presentations at The Metropolitan Museum of Art will examine aspects of cultural interconnectedness at three prominent locations within the Museum where major paths through the galleries intersect. Crossroads will address broad themes that have inspired artists in multiple cultures throughout history: Piety and PowerMythical Beasts, and Empires and Emporia through some 40 objects drawn mainly from The Met’s unparalleled collection. Coinciding with The Met’s 150th anniversary year, the installations will open on March 6, 2020.

The initiative is made possible by The Giorgi Family Foundation and Barbara A. Wolfe.

Corporate sponsorship is provided by Citi.

“The works of art in Crossroads reveal fascinating links embedded within the world’s sometimes complex histories,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “By examining two intriguing aspects of art-making that occur across time and around the globe—the transmitting of ideas and motifs between societies, and the simultaneous exploration of fundamental concepts by artists working in distant civilizations—these displays illuminate moments of connection and exchange that interlace our collective cultural heritage.”

Crossroads: Piety and Power

Medieval Sculpture Hall, Gallery 305, first floor

Twelve works of art from Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Europe—ranging from monumental sculpture commissioned by elite patrons to devotional images produced for pious worshippers—will be displayed in four thematically related groupings in the majestic Medieval Sculpture Hall, which is centrally located at the very core of the Museum.

Created between the 4th and 15th centuries, these objects reveal how several pre-modern cultures used the visual arts to express concepts of power and piety. The installation explores the use of works of art to identify centers of political and spiritual power, express concepts of rule and community, visualize the holy, and serve as sacred gifts. Drawn from disparate places—some of which interacted through trade, diplomacy, and war—the objects are a potent illustration of the ways different cultures employed raw materials, specialized knowledge, and artistic talent to produce evocative works of art.

Crossroads: Mythical Beasts
Gallery for the Art of the Ancient Near East, Cyprus, and the Islamic World, second floor).
The Crossroads concept continues in the Greek and Roman Galleries of Cypriot Art
(The Norbert Schimmel Gallery, Gallery 173; A.G. Leventis Foundation Gallery, Gallery 175;

Jake and Nancy Hamon Gallery, Gallery 176).

Four objects from the ancient Middle East, ancient Cyprus, and the Islamic world will illustrate the widespread interaction among distant peoples in antiquity, their shared fascination with creatures of myth and legend, and artistic transformations that occurred within different cultural contexts.

Among the creatures depicted in this section will be the mushhushshu, sphinx, griffin, and dragon. The form of the mushhushshu—a Babylonian gatekeeper dragon that combines features of several ferocious and powerful animals—evolved from an earlier Sumerian serpent god. The sphinx—a mythological creature that is part lion, part human—originated in Egypt and has been known throughout the eastern Mediterranean since about 2000 B.C. Later it became popular in the Middle East and Asia. In the Cypriot example, heavily influenced by Greek sculpture, sphinxes are depicted as beautiful females. The fantastic form of the griffin—combining elements of both the lion and the eagle—was known in the Sasanian Empire before being adapted for use in the decorative arts of early Islamic Iran to convey power and authority. Dragon imagery that originated in China—where the creature was considered beneficent—inspired Islamic artists, for whom it was a fearsome animal that they depicted sometimes interlaced as an apotropaic motif.

To emphasize the centrality of Cyprus as a crossroads in antiquity, an additional five objects in the adjacent Cypriot galleries of the Greek and Roman Art Department will be highlighted, serving as eloquent examples of interconnection among Egypt, the Middle East, and Greece.

Crossroads: Empires and Emporia

Asian Art Galleries Astor Forecourt, Gallery 209, second floor

More than two dozen objects in various media will represent the sustained centuries-long contact linking Asia, Europe, and America, beginning with the arrival of Portuguese merchants in Japan and China in the 16th century, the conquest of the Philippines by Spain, and the establishment of a transpacific trade route between Manila and Acapulco.

The Manila Galleon trade connected China and Spain, via Mexico, for nearly 250 years, facilitating the exchange of Spanish American silver for luxury goods and other commodities from Asia. A postscript considers the arrival of the first merchants from the United States in Canton (Guangzhou) in the 1780s.

The display will feature luxury goods made in Asia specifically for the Western market and items made in Mexico in imitation of Asian goods. Christian images appeared on textiles, porcelains, and devotional items made in China and the Philippines, while Mexican silver coins—the currency of transpacific trade—are copied on objects made in China.

Crossroads is organized by C. Griffith Mann, the Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge, and Andrea Achi, Assistant Curator, with the support of Christine E. Brennan, Senior Researcher and Collections Manager, all of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters (for Power and Piety); Sarah Graff, Associate Curator, Ancient Near Eastern Art; Joan R. Mertens, Curator, Greek and Roman Art, and Martina Rugiadi, Associate Curator, Islamic Art (for Mythical Beasts); and Ronda Kasl, Curator of Latin American Art, The American Wing (for Empires and Emporia).

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