Sweet, Merciful Zeus

During the last Summer Olympics, nearly 70 million Americans watched Shanghai’s opening ceremony — it was an impressive if somewhat eerie phantasm (a gymnast ran on air, the weather was controlled by scientists, and a little girl was given a “suitable” face to match her voice). We may not expect the same level of spectacle from London, but the sight of the human body at the peak of its power is so riveting even people without a love of sport find themselves caught up in Olympic fervor. This year, 10,500 athletes compete in 26 sports, including beach volleyball, ping-pong, BMX riding, and judo. While these aren’t the contests ancient Greeks imagined when they dedicated the games to their gods, things really haven’t changed much since 776 B.C. In tracing our obsession, “Gifts from the Gods: Art and the Olympic Ideal” attempts to prove it. Muscular portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe, a chief’s stool from Ghana decorated with a soccer ball, antique coins portraying the tethrippon (a four-horse chariot race), sculptures of athletes by Rodin and Douglas Tilden, screenprints by Michael Schwab, and fruit crate labels designed for Athlete Oranges provide visual testimony on our enduring love of competitors and our admiration of the physical ideal.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: July 28. Continues through Jan. 27, 2012

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