The was the goddess of love. She was thought of as the ideal feminine form. She influenced cultures for thousands of years. Her son still shoots people with arrows. And she was a little bit slutty.
For the next three months, over 120 pieces of art, including sculpture, jewelry, pottery, and artifacts from everyday life focusing on the goddess Aphrodite will be on display at the Philbrook Museum in its newest exhibition, Aphrodite and the Gods of Love.
The show's curator, Dr. Tanya Paul, recently talked about the show in great detail, touching on its history -- as well as that of Aphrodite herself -- its themes, and why Aphrodite matters.
"So many shows are just Greek masterpieces or are focused on a specific time period or culture," Paul said. "This one is thematic in approach. That's not customary, and it's just a really great opportunity for us."
That thematic approach means that a walk through this exhibition of art surrounding Aphrodite doesn't actually start with Aphrodite, but rather with art and artifacts concerned with the goddess' (for lack of a better word) ancestors.
"It's more than 5,000 years of antiquities," Paul said. "The reason we go back that far is that one section which explores Aphrodite's early ancestors, so that would be ancient near eastern to Egyptian to Assyrian, so you get that broad range of fertility goddesses and goddesses of love that sort of morphed into what we think of as Aphrodite from Greek and Roman mythology."
Once Aphrodite and the Gods of Love moves from her ancestors, the exhibit moves to her actual origins.
"There's a section on the myth of how she was born," Paul said, briefly reviewing the tale in order to add some context to the history of the worship of this particular goddess. "Kronos, the father of Zeus, attacked his own father and sliced off his genitals. He threw them into the ocean, this white foam grew up on the sea, and from that, she steps out of the sea and onto the island of Cyprus, so that's where the first early cults of Aphrodite are." So that explains the foam on the ocean.
This particular section of Aphrodite and the Gods of Love, as do the other sections, contains many different items on display, crossing many boundaries in terms of style, function, and subject matter. In this area alone, there are depictions of the goddess in set into vases, coins, rings, and even intaglios used for printing.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the entire exhibit is that it's not just art. These are historical artifacts that regular people used on a daily basis.
Further travels through the Helmerich Gallery, where the show is housed, reveal the goddess's history as a mother, a fickle lover, and a goddess of much more than love.
"She's much more complex than that," Paul said. "Because she's born of the sea, she's seen as the patroness of seafarers. Because of her ancient predecessors, she's associated with warriors. And she's the patroness of brides, but she's also one of the most famous adulteresses in ancient history, so she's got this really interesting dual nature."
More on that sluttiness in a minute, but Paul spoke specifically to a few of the items in the show that might not be thought of as art and why they're included nonetheless.
STATUETTE OF EROS WEARING THE LIONSKIN OF HERAKLES
"The worship of her was very complex. We learn things from odd sources," Dr. Paul said. "Like coins -- they show us what her temples looked like, and that one of the things associated with her was the dove."
But also, the artifacts shed light on how some day-to-day activities during the ancient times were like and how they were influenced by the worship of the goddess.
"This vase shows her association with brides and marriage," Paul said, pointing to an amazingly well-preserved piece of pottery. There are chipped dishes in my cupboard that aren't even a year old. "In a Greek wedding, there would be a day of preparation and a day of feasting, and this shows all of that -- there's a procession, there's a scene in the bedchamber." And the goddess of love can be seen in the various scenes depicted on this large vase, whether in the background or out and out guiding the events, though not only related to love and marriage. And this is where Paul begins to point out some of the other parts of life that the goddess was associated with.
"There's her association with beauty, so we have various pieces where we see a bride in the process of bathing and anointing herself and putting on makeup, so we have a few mirrors here, too," she said. While you can't see yourself in these mirrors anymore, the artifacts are still recognizable as what they are. Further, what these mirrors say about ancient cultures and their thoughts of beauty is pretty interesting, as well.
"Mirrors became associated with her," Paul said. "She's associated with the idea of ideal beauty, so a woman would have a mirror, and it would have her on it, so that maybe some of Aphrodite's beauty would run off on her."
But it's more than just mirrors. There are perfume jars, flasks, rings, intaglios, even earrings showing Aphrodite her son Cupid (also known an Eros), or with doves. Some of these displays honestly look a little like my ex's vanity with all her detritus of beauty strewn about.
"For a woman to have these elements, she'd be directly connecting herself to the power of the goddess and her beauty," Paul explained.
The exhibition is filled with room after room of fascinating pieces of art and of artifacts. It explores the goddess's relationship with her son Cupid (he of the wings and bow and arrow), son Priapus (incredibly well-endowed god of fertility and son of Dionysus), son Aeneas (ancestor of the founder of Rome), as well as her status as goddess of a lot of things, including courtesans, which totally explains her many sexual partners. And it's all here in the art.
But of all the things she's goddess of, Aphrodite is perhaps best known for being antiquity's ideal nude figure.
"The sculptor Praxiteles was the first to sculpt her in the nude as opposed to draped," Paul said, drawing attention to a headless, armless relic. "That sculpture does not survive, but we have this Roman copy, and it's simply extraordinary. It treats the female body as an object of beauty that is to be worshipped. This is one of the star pieces of this exhibition."
And though it is obviously a damaged piece of art, it is easy to see why it's the star: there is more than enough of the statue remaining in order for the observer to see what the ideal female form looked like to these ancients. And maybe this is just me, but the thought of creating something so smooth and beautiful out of a hunk of rock with a hammer and a hard chunk of whatever chisels used to be made of is mind-numbingly baffling.
There certainly isn't anything like a TV-MA rating to this show, but if you're taking your kids and don't want to have The Talk in the middle of a museum, you might want to know that the center room of the Helmerich Gallery is totally the dirty room.
"She's also the goddess of courtesans," Paul said, moving toward a small bowl that totally has on it a picture of what I think it has on it.
"There's a piece here that has a frieze of an orgy," she said. "There are very explicit sexual acts being depicted, and this is part and parcel of Aphrodite's image and her associations. Pieces like this depict this very explicit culture."
When she says "explicit," she means it. There are a couple of vases that made me do double-takes, literally asking myself, "How does that fit there?" Granted, it's not full-color, full-on internet porn, but it's definitely porn. And it's not all man-on-woman porn, either. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Aphrodite and the Gods of Love comes to the Philbrook from the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and Paul said that what caught her attention was what the exhibition could offer Tulsa audiences that the Philbrook itself can't so much on its own.
"This is not something we can provide our audience in depth," she said of the collection. "This is such a wonderful example of antiquities." While the Philbrook has a few pieces of its own, the scope of this exhibit is much, much larger than what our museum has in its permanent collection.
The Helmerich Gallery itself houses the exhibit, having been refinished and repurposed following the exhibit that just recently resided there.
"It's a great, flexible space," Paul said. "All the walls can move, so when we go to put together a new exhibit, we can add rooms or take away rooms. Our last show was the Max Weber show, and now this, so we try to keep a real range in our shows."
Aphrodite and the Gods of Love opened last weekend and will live here in Tulsa through the end of May.
The Philbrook Museum of Art is located at 2727 S. Rockford Road, and is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and is open until 8pm on Thursdays.
Red Hot Tails from Outer Space!
There's a way to go see some strippers while still retaining some class, and it's called a burlesque show. You won't see actual nipples, and you won't get a lap dance, and there's no champagne room, but it's still pretty awesome.
For the next three weekends, the Horsemeat Flea Circus Naughty Vaudville Cabaret and the Nightingale brings us Red Hot Tails from Outer Space, along with a revolving door of special guests that will (hint, hint) reward multiple return trips to the theatre.
This Friday, March 15, the three-weekend engagement kicks off, featuring the music of Nightingale house band The Calamities and a whole host of burlesque dancers.
One of them is Sara Wilemon, whose nom de danceaux is Ilsa the Wolf. She, along with Horsemeat regulars including Bossy L'Amour and Lady Tenderbits, will appear for the entire run of the show. And she drew a line regarding the stripping versus the burlesque-ing.
"The barest we get is a g-string and pasties," she said. "It's not anything like going into a strip club."
Further, she said that since burlesque has experienced something of a revival in Tulsa over the last decade, audience members know what to expect when they come to a show.
"Audiences today sort of know what to expect," she said. "So nobody tries to give the dancers dollar bills. It's a performance. They're the audience and we're the performers, so there's no physical contact of any kind. It's nothing like a strip club."
In addition to the usual Horsemeat burlesque dancers, each of the three weekends will see guest dancers from around the region. For this first weekend, audiences will also see Annie Cherry and Violet Vendetta, both from Kansas City. Nikki Trash travels from Dallas to make appearances for the March 22 and 23 shows, while Lu Foxxx from Tulsa's own Eye Candy Burlesque will close out the run on March 29 and 30.
The Nightingale is located at 1416 E. 4th St., and $8 tickets are available at the door. All shows kick off at 8pm.
Oliver! presented by Theatre Tulsa
Theatre Tulsa has had a really great season this year, from the classic comedy of The Odd Couple to a stupendous collaboration with Odeum Theatre on Hamlet to the touching Tuesdays with Morrie. The troupe looks to keep the streak alive with Oliver!, the tale of the little orphan boy who just please, sir, wants some more.
Playing in the Liddy Doenges Theatre downstairs at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center downtown, the show runs March 15-16 and 21-23 at 8pm with a Sunday matinee on March 17 at 2pm. Tickets are available through three websites: theatretulsa.com, myticketoffice.com, and tulsapac.com, in person at the PAC's Second Street box office, or by phone at 918-596-7111.
Violet, presented by Tulsa Symphony
The penultimate show in its color-themed season, Tulsa Symphony's Violet explores the purplish hue with all its regal associations on Saturday, March 16. Featuring guests Robin Sutherland on piano and conductor Daniel Hege, Violet will take audiences through Mozart's wonderful Piano Concerto No. 21, as well as the Romantic masterpiece that is Anton Bruckner's fourth Symphony.
Violet plays in the Chapman Music Hall at the PAC at 7:30pm. Tickets start at $25 and go up to $70. They are available through tulsasymphony.org or by calling 918-596-7111.
Quartetto di Cremona, presented by Chamber Music Tulsa
This Italian string quartet has performed around the world to wild accolades, and now, Chamber Music Tulsa brings the foursome to the PAC for a series of concerts this weekend.
Performing music new and old, Quartetto di Cremona will perform what CMT calls a Salon Concert on Saturday in the PAC's Westby Pavillion -- featuring string quartets by Beethoven and Ottorino Respighi -- and an all-Italian program on Sunday afternoon in the John H. Williams Theatre.
The Westby show starts at 7pm on March 16, while the Sunday show starts at 3pm, following a 2:15pm pre-concert lecture. Tickets are available through the usual channels: myticketoffice.com, tulsapac.com, and 918-596-7111.
Dual Pianos Ragtime with Brian Holland and Paul Asaro, presented by Ragtime for Tulsa
You'll be hard-pressed to find musicians with more street cred than this pair. Asaro has played with Leon Redbone among others, Holland is a three-time winner of the World Old-time Ragtime Piano Competition (I bet you didn't know there was such a thing, did you?), and both have Grammy nominations under their belts. They bring their prodigious talents to the Williams Theater on Tuesday, March 19 at 7pm. Tickets -- available through tulsapac.com, myticketoffice.com, and at 918-569-7111 -- are $25, $5 for students.
Brown Bag It Series: Joesf Glaude and James Ruggles, presented by the PAC Trust
Get your Wednesday artistic fix over lunch while you simultaneously get introduced to the harp-guitar. It looks a bit like the guitar Prince played when he was calling himself by an unpronounceable symbol instead of the royal moniker his mama gave him, but it is, as its name implies, more than a guitar.
While Ruggles does his thing with a measly four strings on his violin, Glaude navigates the guitar part of the instrument like any guitarist would. The "harp" part, though, means there are additional strings that are played in open tunings, much like, well, a harp. Check it out on YouTube. You'll be astounded. Then check these guys out in person. It's free, and you'll learn something.
Joesf Glaude and James Ruggles play the Kathleen Westby Pavilion at the Tulsa PAC on Wednesday, March 20 at 12:10pm.
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