Thanks to Discovery Times Square, there’s a lot more to do in the theater district than just see a Broadway show. This massive space located in the former digs of the New York Times has played host to a series of fascinating exhibitions, with this summer’s diverse offerings being Terracotta Warriors: Defenders of China’s First Emperor and the rather more modern Spy: The Secret World of Espionage.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to be visiting China, Terracotta Warriors is the closest you’ll get to these magnificent figures that are more than 2,000 years old. Or, at least a tiny portion of them: The show includes only ten (the maximum allowed to leave China) of the some 8,000 life-size terracotta warriors, each weighing approximately 600 pounds, which were built for the tomb of the ancient Chinese emperor Qin Shiguangdi to protect him in the afterlife.
Buried with him in the second century BCE, they were only discovered by accident in 1974 by some farmers who were digging a well outside the city of Xian. A massive museum eventually sprung up to showcase them, although since then samples have toured museums throughout the world.
And now they’ve shown up in Times Square, in a beautifully laid-out exhibition that well showcases their ancient glory. The bright colors that once adorned the hyper-realistic figures have long since faded away. But as dramatically lit and presented here, they exert a compelling fascination nonetheless.
Representing various military ranks from generals to foot soldiers, this clay figures feature elaborate uniforms, unique facial expressions and, in one striking case, a life-size horse.
There’s much more to see as well. Brief film selections provide historical background information, which you’ll no doubt find illuminating unless you happen to be up on ancient Chinese history. The exhibition also includes over 200 artifacts from the period, many of which were originally buried with the warriors in the emperor’s tomb. They include a spectacular suit of armor, jewelry, musical instruments, a bronze ritual vessel, gold ornaments, and most notably, gates from an ancient Han burial chamber that is being displayed for the first time since its discovery.
The most appropriate attire for attending Spy: The Secret World of Espionage is a trench coat and fedora, the better to get you into the proper frame of mind for this fascinating show of objects relating to the world of espionage. Culled from the collections of the CIA, FBI, National Reconnaissance Office and especially the voluminous private collection of historian H. Keith Melton (author of such books as The Ultimate Spy and the forthcoming Spy’s Guide to New York City), the exhibition provides endless insight into the world of spies, largely through the tools of the trade.
Thus you’ll see such artifacts, many of them previously hidden, as a collapsible motorbike employed by Allied parachute forces in World War II; a dead rat with a hollow cavity used for dead drops in Moscow during the Cold War (hot pepper sauce was sprinkled on them to prevent them from being carried away by rapacious cats); a lifelike robot catfish, one of only two in existence; an Enigma Machine used by German military forces to create supposedly unbreakable codes; a STASI infrared attaché case equipped for covert photography; and a KGB model of the bugged US Embassy building in Moscow.
History buffs, albeit those of a ghoulish bent, will be thrilled to see the actual blood-stained axe used in the assassination of Leon Trotsky as well as the broken eyeglasses of his killer.
There are special sections devoted to such topics as homing pigeons that were used as couriers in World War II; U-2 spy planes, such as the one piloted by Gary Powers shot down by a Russian missile; and such recent infamous traitors as Aldrich Ames, John Walker and Robert Hanssen. There’s also special attention paid to Anna Chapman, the comely but amateurish Russian spy who achieved tabloid notoriety.
The show also includes cheesy interactive elements in which you can alter your own photograph and voice and dodge laser beams in Mission: Impossible style. And I’m not sure it needed to include a full-size recreation of the Oval Office. But these quibbles aside, Spy compellingly brings to light the gritty professional details of a milieu most of us know only from headlines and sensationalistic thrillers.
Discovery Times Square, 226 W. 44th St. 866-987-9862. www.discoverytsx.com. Terracotta Warriors through Aug. 26. Spy through Mar. 31.
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