The new exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum “Odysseys” is the main commemorative event on the occasion of the 150th anniversary since the foundation of the Museum. It attempts to give an account of the adventurous journey of man through time considered from an abstract and symbolic perspective that draws its inspiration from the Homeric Odyssey. Without reciting the mythological epic of Homer the exhibition is inspired by the archetypal character of Odysseus and recounts through the emblematic, as well as the lesser-known ancient works of the National Archaeological Museum, the long chronicle of the beleaguered man, his incessant endeavour to tame his environment, conquer new places, broaden his horizons, establish well-governed societies and fight against the perishable nature of his existence with the aid of love and creative act.
One hundred and eighty-four works that come either from the permanent exhibition or the rich in archaeological material storerooms of the Museum’s Collections and six loans, three from the Epigraphic Museum and three from the Acropolis Museum, are presented in an enchanting sequence of cultural stratification, enabling the visitor to discern the differentiations and changes and simultaneously detect those elements that reside and remain unaffected in time and constitute the shared imprint which man has left on the centuries, the ages and the civilizations.
The interpretation of the ancient works through the symbolically charged poetry of C. P. Cavafy, G. Seferis, O. Elytis and Y. Ritsos imparts to the exhibits perhaps the most astute and exciting meaning, setting simultaneously a bridge with today through the modern poetic language. The audio-visual and digital applications of the exhibition denote in a discreet manner all these notional connections.
Three thematic axes run through the exhibition narrative:
THE JOURNEY presents tangible evidence of the ceaseless quest of man for raw materials, knowledge and ideas. Τhe variegated cargo of a conceptual ship and the myths that accompanied the sea journeys of ancient people create an allusive environment of adventure and knowledge. ITHACAS are inspired by the homecoming (nostos) of Odysseus and devoted to the homelands of all people. Ecumenical ideas and concepts are exemplified by works that embody the collective effort of societies to ensure development and prosperity, as well as the urge of human existence to defy its perishability. In the EXODUS, ancient creations symbolically demarcate great achievements of the human mind and spirit inviting each one of us to pick up the torch of creativity.
The music for the exhibition is by courtesy of Vangelis Papathanassiou from his works “Ithaca” and “VOICES – Dream in an Οpen Place”.
The Eugenides Foundation offered the equipment and the application of the starry sky that Odysseus was looking at on his return to Ithaca from the island of Kalypso, while the National Theatre provided the theatrical costume of “Oedipus the King”. Both of these offers contribute to the enhancement of the visitor’s experience in the relevant exhibition parts.
The Museum’s permanent exhibitions also participate in the «Odysseys» and the grant festivity they signify, by means of object stops at emblematic antiquities, designed to involve the visitor in tracing notional connections with the thematic aspects of the temporary exhibition.
For the realisation of the exhibition of uppermost importance has been the generous donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in Greek and in English, a publication of the Archaeological Receipts Fund. This anniversary volume includes texts that present the diachronic trajectory and pursuit of the people who lived and created in the Helladic region and the wider catchment of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, as well as results of international research projects that are currently conducted focusing on important antiquities of the Museum collections, all this richly illustrated. The Afterword is devoted to the 150-year long history of the National Archaeological Museum enriched with texts on its scientific, educational and social contribution.
The opening of the exhibition has been scheduled for Monday, 3 October 2016, a particularly symbolic date, since it was on another Monday, 150 years ago, that the foundation stone of the first National Museum in the country was laid by King George I, in the presence of the entire group of ministers and the political, religious, military and municipal authorities.
On the same day of the opening, from early in the morning until midnight, the «Passers-by» of George Xenos, works of sculpture with frames of iron sheet, depicting human figures, will be installed in the courtyard of the Museum, recalling to mind the visitors of the Museum, who for 150 years enjoyed it, almost uninterruptedly. Moreover, this sculptural composition metaphorically illustrates the foundation ceremony itself that was carried out in open air, in the unbuilt plot of Patission Street, on 3 October 1866.
At the same time, the anniversary of the National Archaeological Museum receives honour from great museums of the world that send as «gifts» outstanding works of theirs to be on display in the spaces of the Museum’s permanent exhibition for quite some time. The Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Badisches Landesmuseum of Karlsruhe, the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, the Palace Museum of Beijing, as well as the Greek National Gallery, the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation and the University of Heidelberg participate in the celebration with important works from their collections, such as ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin, the Apulian krater that depicts a painter decorating a statue of Heracles using the encaustic (hot wax painting) technique et al. These artworks converse with the permanent exhibits of the National Archaeological Museum and bring forward different aspects of the ancient world along with, its sometimes unexpected, similarities with today.