Art meets science and the ancient Cycladic period

Earlier in the year, the Museum of Cycladic Art held an impressive exhibition on how some of the most famous modern artists – examples included Brancusi, Giacometti and Picasso – were inspired by the ancient Cycladic figurines. Organized on the occasion of the museum’s 20th anniversary, the exhibition «Shaping the Beginning» highlighted the museum’s opening to modern art and its effort to make connections between past and present cultures. A joint exhibition currently on display through October 21 at the Museum of Cycladic Art (4 Neophytou Douka, 210 722.83.21) continues this practice. A space age-like installation that contemporary artist Yiannis Michaloudis made on the theme of the Cycladic figurines is presented together with a rare Cycladic figurine that the American School of Classical Studies at Athens granted on a long-term loan to the Museum of Cycladic Art just a few days ago. «Stargazer,» which is the name given to the Cycladic figurine because of the unusual backward tilt of the head, belongs to a rare type of early Cycladic figurines (only 21 are known to exist) which, until now, was not represented among the museum’s holdings. A 14.5-centimeter-high figurine made from white stone, this early Cycladic idol was discovered in the early 20th century by Frank Calvert (an English expatriate who in the early 20th century was a consular official in the eastern Mediterranean region and was a key contributor to the discovery of the ancient city of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann) during excavations at the Hellenistic cemetery at the site of Kilia, which was the name of a Greek village in Eastern Thrace. Francis Bacon, the architect who worked in the excavations in the Troad and knew Calvert, is most probably the man who brought the figurine to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in the 1930s. Since then the figurine has remained in storage at the school. The figurine is an unusual Cycladic figurine. Similarly, Michaloudis’s installation of «aer () sculptures» is an unusual contemporary artwork. This is partly because of the space-technology material which Michaloudis has used for making his sculptures, each one of them modeled after an original Cycladic figurine. Silica aerogel, which is the name of the material, has a 99 percent air content and is used by NASA, mainly as an insulating material in spacecraft. Michaloudis learned of this material while on a research stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In reality, it looks like diaphanous, very light silicone material (a specimen is available for the visitors to touch). For his installation at the Museum of Cycladic Art (Katerina Koskina is the curator), the shadows of those silica aerogel-made copies of figurines are projected onto large screens. The actual figurines rotate behind the screens or are presented independently. One of them is placed in the center of metal-like construction that is placed in midair thanks to the use of electromagnetic fields. With lighting designed by Elefteria Deko, Michaloudis’s work is an atmospheric installation that alludes to a journey in time and space. It combines a science-fiction, futuristic element with references to art and an ancient civilization. Like many antiquity-inspired modern works of the early 20th century, it suggests the eternal and archetypal aspects of ancient Cycladic civilization.

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