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A Fresh Look at Antiquities : The first public show of Cypriot artifacts at CSUN will be in a trailer.

August 26, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

NORTHRIDGE — There's a paradox in Cal State Northridge's first art exhibit of the school year.

Beginning Monday, one can see some of the most enduring artifacts ever to grace CSUN in the show, "Cypriote Antiquities in Southern California." Among almost 40 jugs, bottles, bowls, plates and oil lamps are several pieces dating to the Bronze Age, some of them as old as 2100 BC.

But one must view these ancient objects in the most temporary of spaces. Since the January earthquake, the Fine Arts building that contained CSUN's three art galleries has been closed. To follow through on presenting this year's gallery schedule, an exhibit space was set up in a trailer near the corner of Nordhoff Street and Etiwanda Avenue.

Most pieces in the show come from two local collections held by 75-year-old twins James Stewart Bruce and Janet Bruce-Nathason. This is the first time the objects have been available to the public.

"If you think of the history of this material, and what happened to the campus, it's ironic doing it here," said Catie Dede-Mihalopoulos, exhibit curator.

The show was planned more than a year ago, having evolved out of Dede-Mihalopoulos' master's thesis. She completed the thesis this year at CSUN under the supervision of Birgitta Lindros-Wohl, professor of Greek and Roman art history. (Lindros-Wohl is the daughter of John Lindros, the architect and photographer of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition, 1927-1931. It was during that expedition that the first systematic, stratigraphical excavations of the island of Cyprus were made.)

Dede-Mihalopoulos, originally from Athens, explained that Cyprus, lying between southern Europe and the Near East, has served as a link between East and West for several millennia. She became intrigued with Cypriot artifacts because, despite the island culture's close connection to Greek culture, "what you see there is so different from what you see on the mainland," she said.

Evident are influences of Greek as well as Eastern peoples--Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians--and the Romans, who held Cyprus within its empire from circa 30 BC. "It's like a cocktail. You start with the Greek and then you pour all these other things in," Lindros-Wohl said.

The clay, limestone and glass objects in the show made their way to Southern California with the twin collectors, who grew up on Cyprus during the 1920s and '30s while their father served as manager of the Cyprus Mines Corp. United Nations troops now occupy the house that the twins lived in, a result of the 1974 invasion of the island by Turkish troops.

There are seven other Cypriot antiquities collections in the area, including those at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the Claremont Colleges, the Philosophical Research Society in the Los Feliz neighborhood and the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

"I think it's important that people become aware that this heritage is here," Dede-Mihalopoulos said. "Archeologists like me are able to study them firsthand. As a person who studies these artifacts, I see the uniqueness of them. The uniqueness comes from the cosmopolitan-ness" of the island.

Among the more ancient pieces in the exhibit is a Cypro-Mycenaean vessel of the Late Bronze Age, 1400-1230 BC. A Bichrome Ware Dish dates between 850 and 700 BC, the Late Cypro-Geometric period. Works from the earliest of times were "consistently limited to geometric patterns, but endless patterns. The shapes are pleasant to touch and have a tremendous sense of aesthetic form," Lindros-Wohl said.

Plate-like oil lamps from the Cypro-Archaic period (750-475 BC.) evolved to be made from two molds, the top mold enclosing the oil in the bottom one. The votive terra-cotta "Bearded Horseman" of the Cypro-Archaic period, from the Royal Athena Gallery collection, represents a significant aspect of Cypriot antiquities--the depiction of the human figure in rather specific forms. The Late Cypro-Archaic "Head of Aphrodite," from Lindros-Wohl's collection, stands as a symbol of the Cypriot's connection to Greek mythology.

Among the numerous examples of Roman glass circa 50 BC-150 AD are small tear bottles, used by professional mourners at funerals, and the substantially larger "Unguentaria," bottles that resemble the shape of candlesticks.

Though Cyprus artisans throughout the centuries assimilated outside influences, their artwork has "remained uniquely Cypriot," Dede-Mihalopoulos said.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Cypriote Antiquities in Southern California."

Location: CSUN Art Gallery, Art Annex 116, near Nordhoff Street and Etiwanda Avenue, Northridge.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning Monday. Opening reception, 7 to 9 p.m. Ends Sept. 30.

Also: Lecture by Catie Dede-Mihalopoulos, exhibit curator, 10 a.m. Monday.

Call: (818) 885-2226.

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