Message from the Director & CEO
The roots of the Olympus: The Greco-Roman Collections of Berlin exhibition reach back to June 2013, when I travelled to Berlin for the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Inuit Art Centre project—meeting with colleagues and looking at examples of new and renovated museum buildings that set new standards in architectural design, object display, and program development.
The Berlin excursion presented many cultural offerings, none more impressive perhaps than the Antikensammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities), housed in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). The Altes Museum, Neues Museum, and the Pergamonmuseum—all situated on Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island), a UNESCO World Heritage Site—are home to this world-renowned antiquities collection.
As fortune would have it, planning had already begun to bring a group of these classical treasures to Canada with an exhibition proposed for the Musée de la civilisation in Québec City. My own discussions with Québec and Berlin began in earnest, and after a number of trips to both cities to meet with colleagues, the Olympus exhibition was secured for the WAG.
Olympus is an exhibition of over 160 works dating from the seventh century BC to the second century AD, including marble statues and reliefs, bronze statuettes, terracotta vases, and jewellery. Rarely seen outside of Europe, the collection is one of the most significant classical antiquities holdings worldwide. This comprises over 4,400 stone and bronze sculptures, 9,000 Greek vases, and 14,000 gems and cameos, spanning 12 millennia. Originating in the 17th century with the Electors of Brandenburg, the Antikensammlung was built over three centuries and completed largely by 1900. Key archaeological excavations were undertaken in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor at such sites as Olympia in 1845, Vulci in 1852, and Pergamon in 1878. The collection survived the Napoleonic Wars, two world wars, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Olympus explores the fascinating world of classical Greek and Roman art, mythology, and religion, reflecting the universal preoccupation with creation, the nature of deities and humankind, and the afterlife. Viewers have the unique opportunity to discover the twelve Olympian gods— the Dodekatheon—and learning about their personalities, attributes, and deeds through representation in stone, bronze, and terracotta. Objects spanning centuries also mark the birthplace of architecture, language, law, medicine, sport, theatre, and much more that has come to define the heartbeat of modern culture.
The arrival of Olympus in Winnipeg ends a 50-year antiquities drought in the city. In December 1964, the WAG presented The Treasures of Tutankhamen, an exhibition of 34 artifacts from the tomb of King Tut. Fifty years later, a breathtaking exhibition of classical antiquities has come to Winnipeg, marking a momentous occasion for the WAG, and the first time a major exhibition from the Antikensammlung der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has been presented in North America.
Aside from the ongoing presentation of the permanent collection, including selections from the world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit art, there is an enticing array of historical and contemporary shows featuring the work of artists from Winnipeg to London to Iqaluit. I hope you can find the time to spend a few hours at the WAG, once, twice, or perhaps three times if you really want to catch all of Olympus.
Stephen Borys, PhD, MBA
Director & CEO