Sunken Cities

Plaque with Amun as a Ram, c.600-500 BC

We used Anne’s gift membership to the Saint Louis Art Museum to gain entry into the new art show that opened late last month, Sunken Cities – Egypt’s Lost Worlds. Saint Louis is the US premier for this show and the art museum has been excited about its debut for months. The core of this show are its ancient underwater archeological artifacts that have been unearthed from beneath the murky waters surrounding present day Alexandria. More than 1,200 years ago the lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus sank beneath the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. For more than twenty years now, modern archeologist and divers from the European Union have been scouring the sea floor and bring up numerous ceremonial art objects and items of everyday use.

Sunken Cities Poster

Leavened among these sunken treasures are more pristine terrestrial versions of these same items that are contemporary with the underwater finds, but without the weathering caused by centuries in a salt water bath. Even the relatively well-preserved plaque fragment, pictured above, shows some pitting on its surface. Accompanying this artifact and many of the others in the show are photos that show the object in situ, on the ocean floor, when it was first discovered. 

Arsinoë II Statue, C.300-200 BC

The photo with the diver is seen guiding the raising of a statue of the god Hapy. This colossal 17′ tall statue is one of two such finds that are located in the main hall of the art museum. They were too tall to fit into the show’s exhibit space. It is the underwater aspect of this archeology that excites my imagination. God help me, but I am reminded of the opening sequence in Matthew McConaughey’s “Sahara”. Adventure is in the air, with sunken gold and treasure reclaimed from the sea. This is not just some dry and dusty dig.

Last week, we were at the Getty in LA and caught the opening of their show, Beyond the Nile – Egypt and the Classical World. Both shows cover roughly the same time period in Egyptian history, the classical period of Alexander, Ptolemy and the Romans. Not to cast too much shade on the Getty, but Sunken Cities is the superior show. It will be on display in Saint Louis until September 8th. 

Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds

Greek Islands Embroidery, 18th-century

Friday, we went to the art museum, but first we lunched at the Seedz Café, a veggie restaurant in the DeMun neighborhood. We walked from lunch to the museum, to get a little exercise. When we arrived at the museum, we ran into a MRH field trip. Even though it was free Friday, the museum is in-between shows right now, but everyone working there gushed over the upcoming show, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds. This show features artifacts that were discovered underwater in the Nile River delta. Saint Louis will be this exhibit’s US debut.

Preparations for this show was already evident. The show’s main exhibit area will be in the new wing, where these special shows are usually lodged, but two 17′ tall statues are slated for the museum’s original main hall. They are too big to fit in the special exhibit space. One of these statues will be installed in the space normally occupied by the Spanish-Moorish doors that were restored by our friend, Chris. We were assured that the door is still there. It is just covered now with a backdrop for the arriving statue.

I had to bite my tongue when speaking with the museum staff. I wanted mention that I had seen the King Tut exhibit that had been at the science center. That this show featured fake artifacts probably made it less than desirable to the art staff. The other subject that I dared not mention was Mathew McConaughey’s movie, “Sahara”. This movie featured underwater archeology, along with numerous other more ridiculous plot lines. This show will run from March to September. 

Walker Hancock

Pegasus and Warrior (Courage), Walker Hancock, 1937

Together, the warrior and mythological Pegasus represent courage. The warrior’s sure control of Pegasus’ head contrasts the horse’s ready to take flight open wings. This plaster model is one of four (Courage, Vision, Loyalty and Sacrifice) that artist Walker Hancock (1901-1998) created in preparation for sculpting their full-scale versions that flank Soldiers Memorial in downtown Saint Louis. That memorial is undergoing a massive renovation and is currently closed, but is scheduled to reopen next year on Veteran’s Day. 

Walker Hancock was also a Monuments Man. During WW II, a commissioned group of men and women from thirteen nations was formed. Composed of museum directors, curators and artists, the mission of these people was to track down stolen art that the Nazis had plundered. In the 2014 movie, “The Monuments Men”, John Goodman plays a character that is based on Hancock.

Nature & Politics

Sun’s Glow Kissed Maple

There is a certain crispness in the air these day. When it is sunny out, the trees glow brightly with all the warm colors of the spectrum. Walking down the road causes dry leaves to rustle at your feet. Fall has fallen, autumn has awakened, as nature displays one last spectacle, before winter dark and dreary comes our way.

With southern summers and northern winters, Saint Louis has never been known for nice weather. Years ago, during a brief period of uncharacteristically fine conditions, this city’s mayor quipped that if the weather was like this all of the time, then none of us could afford to live here. There is one season though that Saint Louisans can reliably count upon and that is this one. Fall is our season.

Tokamak Asdex Upgrade Interior 2, Max Planck IPP, Garching, Thomas Struth, 2009

I enjoyed a cool autumn walk today, when I hoofed it over to the art museum. I went to see the new show there, entitled “Nature & Politics”, by Thomas Struth. This photography exhibit’s title is intended by the artist as a “partly comical provocation.” The subjects of his photos are complex technological constructs, like aircraft factories, robotics labs, and nuclear fusion reactors (pictured above). All these sites represent humanity’s attempts to understand and harness unseen forces of nature, often at great cost of resources. Quoting the artist, “Nothing that you see would be thinkable without nature but in everything you see, there is politics because there’s political strategies that impact you subconsciously.”

As artist statements go, I find his to be suitably obtuse and sufficiently artsy. I found this show interesting, full of images of high-tech wizardry, but also lacking in beauty. Maybe, it is because I spent my career working in and around environs, similar in form if not function as the ones depicted. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. The devices portrayed are not lovely to behold. Often they’re a jumbled mess of wires and tubes. What gives them true beauty is the secrets of nature that they help to unlock, but you can’t see that in a photograph and Mr. Struth purposely avoids any explanations of his subjects. Leaving we his audience to gawk ignorantly. Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Maybe making magic is what Struth was shooting for. That would certainly explain the odd selection of images from Disney’s Magic Kingdom in his show.