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Mythological celebration

WAG to exhibit priceless classical European antiquities

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Much like the World Cup is currently a point of pride for the Greek and Italian communities, so too will the Winnipeg Art Gallery's newly announced 2015 exhibit Olympus: The Greco-Roman Collections of Berlin.

Ernest Cholakis, a proud member of the city's Greek community and a member of the WAG's board of governors, is passionate about the artistic coup that will unite arts lovers and mythology buffs next year.

"Today, we're fascinated with The Avengers and Thor and Harry Potter, but all of those have a foundation in some of these ancient cultures that celebrated mythology thousands of years ago. We're now going to see one of the forerunners of that, so I'm excited," he said.

Dr. Stephen Borys, the WAG's director and CEO, revealed the gallery's latest exhibit Thursday morning while standing beside chalked-up Winnipeg contemporary dancers, striking poses to look like living statues.

Olympus will be the first display of classical antiquities in over a half-century in Winnipeg. Visitors can expect marble, bronze and limestone statues, terra cotta pottery and intricate antique jewels on display from April 2015 to March 2016.

This will be the kind of exhibit rarely seen outside Europe, said Borys. The WAG is one of only two galleries in North America that are set to showcase this fragile collection.

"From a logistics and a diplomatic point of view, these works rarely ever leave Germany or Europe. So to convince (the Berlin State Museums) to lend was one thing, but then to get them here safely... the Germans would not allow these works to travel by any distance by surface or by truck. So it had to be by air," said Borys.

"But these crates won't fit in a passenger flight, so they're coming in an exclusive dedicated cargo flight, all in one plane that will come right to Winnipeg. And then the only trucking will be from the airport."

Despite the tedious travel process, Borys thinks the exhibition is a worthy investment. He expects higher attendance numbers for this exhibit than the more than 60,000 people that turned up for last year's 100 Masters showcase of paintings, which set a new attendance record for the WAG.

"Last year, borrowing 100 works from 30 museums was a challenge, but they all came from within Canada. For this exhibition, which is trans-Atlantic and from one of the oldest and most prestigious museums in Europe, it takes it up a notch and makes it challenging, but worthwhile," he said.

The WAG plans to incorporate additional educational programming alongside the Olympus exhibit, from in-class lesson plans for elementary schools to on-site sculpture workshops for older generations.

And needless to say, if any of the Berlin State Museums' one-of-a-kind works get broken, they're as good as bought.

"Of course we have insurance, but these works are priceless. They can't be replaced," said Borys. "So we take every effort in the crating, in the handling, in the presentation, in the security, in the transport to make sure nothing happens. Some of them are 2,000 years old and we want to return them in the same condition they arrived."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2014 D5

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