Beyond Museum Mile

| 11 Jan 2017 | 02:29

By Virginia Randall

Although New York’s Museum Mile has the title, there are plenty of hidden gems off the beaten bath, offering a variety of options for culture, art or history — both ancient and modern — with the start of the new season.

For instance, behind the wooden doors of a stately townhouse near The Met Fifth Avenue is a world-class center of scholarly research and graduate education. Since 2006, The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University at 15 East 84th St. has welcomed scholars and visitors alike.

The inside looks as if Indiana Jones might barrel down its spiral staircase two steps at a time to lecture on its current exhibit: “Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” on view through April 23.

However, it’s not Indiana, but Alexander Jones, interim director of the ISAW, who curated this exhibit. Professor of the History of the Exact Science in Antiquity, Jones explained recently that sundials didn’t just tell time for the ancients. “Sundials represent what they thought the world looked like,” he said. “They were also status symbols, since many of the sundials would have been on private estates.” Unlike modern sundials, the ancients used hollow inverted bowls with a hole at the top to admit sunlight, which moved around the inside to highlighting the hours carved inside the domes.

Beautifully mounted and lit, the current show packs a lot into two rooms, with additional context via touchscreens. Besides intricately carved sundials and sculptures, the show features artifacts like “pocket sundials,” used by the wealthy, a surgeon’s field medical kit, and vibrant mosaics of philosophers (“You can tell by the raised drinking vessels” Jones noted) or meditations on mortality. Viewers can reorient themselves to the present day by visiting the small gift shop near the entrance.

Meanwhile, around the corner from Versace and Cartier, there’s a high-rise tower that can transport visitors from midtown to antiquity with a walk through the lobby, or a trip downstairs. The lobby walls at 645 Fifth Ave. (aka the Olympic Tower) are adorned with plaster cast replicas of fragments from the Parthenon, cast directly from original molds made in the early 19th century and lent by the City College of New York.

The display hints at the tower’s role as home to the Onassis Cultural Center of New York. Guided by Amalia Cosmetatou, its new executive director and cultural director of the Onassis Foundation USA, the Center aims to demonstrate how ancient Greece’s ideas still impact present day, using visual arts, performing arts, lectures and exhibits — all free to the public in its newly renovated space downstairs.

Although open since 2000, according to Maria Galanou, a Center representative, the Center’s recent, museum-level quality renovation lets it present major antiquities, such as those in “A World Full of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC-200 AD,” (March 9 -June 24, 2017). Many of the more than 130 items — vase paintings, sculptures, theatrical masks, artifacts, coins and more — will be on view in the U.S. for the first time and have been drawn from the Acropolis Museum, the Louvre, the British Museum, the Vatican Museums and elsewhere. Some works will leave Greece for the first time, specifically for this show.

The collection will show the range of emotion — some familiar, some not — depicted in antiquity, to provide a way to consider the role of feelings in our own personal, social and political lives, while helping to advance the relatively new field of the history of emotions.

At the other end of the time spectrum, there’s no need to go to the Guggenheim when the Czech Center of New York mounts contemporary art shows and much more. The center, housed in a landmarked Renaissance Revival building on 73rd Street, uses the arts to strengthen cultural ties between the Czech Republic and the U.S.

Visitors can see films, borrow books from its library, hear lectures and enjoy art in its gallery from contemporary artists and up and comers. Through Jan. 26, the gallery will show dramatic photography (both drone and still) by Petr Jan Juracka and Czech expert climber Klára Kolouchová when they scaled K2, the world’s second highest peak, as part of the USA International K2 expedition.

The center also offers opportunities to see the work of aspiring artists in different mediums through its Bohemian Creative Hub. Inspired by Thomas Messer, the director of the Guggenheim Museum for 27 years (who was of Czechoslovakian heritage), visual and performing artists under 30 years old can apply to exhibit or perform at its gallery and cinema space in July and November of 2017.

Although not a niche in terms of sheer size (it takes up an entire city block), the Park Avenue Armory is becoming a source of some of the most unusual art experiences in the city — without a long trip to Brooklyn or downtown. Within its wood-paneled rooms and galleries, and especially in its huge (55,000 square feet) Drill Hall, the Armory hosts concerts, lectures and modern or original, commissioned art.

A recent show at the Armory, “Manifesto,” by artist/filmmaker Julian Rosefeldt, featured a history of the manifestos of 20th century art movements, edited and re-imagined as dramatic monologues by 13 different characters, all played by Cate Blanchett. Blanchett assumed the personas of a Russian diva, a day trader, a teacher, a homeless man, a CEO, a puppeteer, a punk rocker, a news reader and more — all portrayed in huge video screens hung throughout the cavernous Drill Hall.

The Armory’s Manifesto was the kickoff to a new cultural season at the Armory (the next big event is O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape” with Bobby Cannavale in March), and proves that there’s more to New York’s art scene than Museum Mile, SoHo or Brooklyn. Dive in.