Agon! Competition in Ancient Greece

Art
4 out of 5 stars
Agon! Competition in Ancient Greece
© British Museum Agon!

Any reason for creating an art exhibition is a good one if it has a minimum of coherence and is built with top-quality materials. And this is the case with 'Argon!', a show that tells us about classical Greek culture through competitiveness: from children's games to war, and including sports, theatre and music, social relevance, and the works of Heraclitus.

Why is it such a delight to visit this exhibition at the CaixaForum? I'll give you three from among the multiple reasons: 1) for the quality of the pieces, especially the painted ceramics, the work with precious metals, and some everyday objects that are seeminly irrelevant, like dice, helmets, electoral records that reflect humans in a society from 2,500 years ago but that show how little we've changed; 2) the eagerness to inform of some of the signs is like a lesson in itself on how to explain a piece of art and its context, intended for almost all audiences; 3) the devil is in the details, especially in the origin of many of the pieces on display.

Greece as a state of mind linked to a language, a mythology, a collection of foundational legends such as 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey'. The Catalan town of Empúries was as Greek as Athens. And just as democratic as it was macho and slave-owning.

Many of the 172 works that make up this exhibition – statues, reliefs, ceramics, terracotta, jewellery, coins, musical instruments and masks, among other objects, that come from the archives of the British Museum – feature details that will have you wanting to shove your nose up against the glass. There are pieces that are so small it might be better to admire them from the catalogue, and others, like a frieze of the mausoleum of Halicarnassus – restored for the occasion of having left the British Museum for the first time – that will hit you with a kind of violence. And among Olympic sports, children's games, battles, poetry recitals and herculean worries, you still have time to confirm to what extent the culture that invented beauty was competitive.

By: Ricard Mas

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