WASHINGTON — TWENTY-TWO classical sculptures, many of which have not been seen outside of Greece in the 2,500 years since they were created, are coming to the United States as the result of an unprecedented cultural swap by two great American art museums.
The exhibition, "The Greek Miracle: Classical Sculpture from the Dawn of Democracy, The Fifth Century BC," includes the 22 Greek marble works of art as well as 11 more from Europe's major museums. They symbolize the golden age of Greek sculpture which followed the birth of democracy in Athens 2,500 years ago.
Among the legendary sculptures are: "The Kritios Boy," "Contemplative Athena," "Cavalary from the Parthenon Frieze," and "Nike [Victory]) Unbinding Her Sandal." The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Greek government's ministry of culture. It will be at the National Gallery Nov. 22 through Feb. 7, l993 and at the Metropolitan Museum March 11 through May 23, l993.
In return, the National Gallery and the Metropolitan will lend more than 70 celebrated paintings from their permanent collections for an exhibition opening in December 1992 at the Ethniki Pinakothiki (National Gallery) in Athens.
The show's title is: "From El Greco to Cezanne: Three Centuries of Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York."
Among the great paintings involved in the lending are priceless works by Goya, Tintoretto, Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Courbet, Corot, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, and Seurat. The Metropolitan is sending 35 Old Master paintings and the National Gallery an equal number of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.
J.Carter Brown, departing director of the National Gallery, called the era of classical Greek art one of the most, if not the most, significant epochs in world history. "And it is that for a variety of reasons," he said. "Probably the one that seems most relevant to us at this minute is that it marked the dawn of democracy.... And with an election coming up in this country, we realize our freedoms are the result of our democratic system of government, and we also look around the world and see in just the
very last few years how many countries have chosen democracy over a totalitarian system of government.... The amazing thing is that there is a kind of equivalency between these great political breakthroughs and the art. There is a sense of balance, proportion, self-discipline, restraint, nothing in excess. And a sense of the value of the individual, which is what makes it so stirring...."
Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum, says the show "is a highly selective, extremely intelligent exhibition, focusing on the very high points that give us a very good sense of the speed at which the Greek artists moved, fom the archaic period to a highly naturalistic form. For American audiences it is a particularly important exhibit because outside of Greece no one knows Greek art except through Roman copies. This is an exhibition made up of Greek originals."