British Museum blog

Special teddy appeal – Grayson Perry exhibition

Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry has spent the past two years behind the scenes at the British Museum putting together The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. This major exhibition, opening in October, is an installation of his new works alongside objects made by unknown men and women throughout history from the British Museum’s collection. Watch Grayson’s video introduction here:

Now finalising the objects, Grayson is looking for three brave ‘stunt doubles’ of Alan Measles, his childhood teddy bear (and god of his imaginary world) to be part of the exhibition. The chosen bears will sit for just over one month each in the teddy shrine on the back of his specially commissioned motorbike on display in the Museum’s Great Court. Can you help? Here, Grayson explains all:

If your teddy has what it takes to be a stunt double, enter the competition here

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
is supported by AlixPartners,
with Louis Vuitton.

Filed under: Exhibitions, Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

A day in the life of a lot of archaeologists


Daniel Pett, Portable Antiquities and Treasure, British Museum

The 29 July marks the first Day of Archaeology, an online social media experiment that coincides with the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology (an annual event, this year running from the 16-31 July).

The idea for this project came from a conversation between two PhD students, Matthew Law (Cardiff University) and Lorna Richardson (University College London), and builds upon a successful project called Day of Humanities, which documented the daily work of people working in a field now known as ‘Digital Humanities’.

So what is happening?

The idea is very simple, over 350 archaeologists from around the world have signed up to document their working day via the use of social media. They will be submitting blog posts, photographs, video footage or a combination of these to demonstrate to anyone interested how varied the archaeological profession is. All these submissions will be moderated and released through the project’s website and disseminated through different social media networks – for example, on Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter (the hashtag for the project is #dayofarch). Some project members will also be making use of the latest entrant to the social media fray, Google+, and will be using a ‘hangout’, to promote archaeology digitally (details for this will be published later).

Unearthing a hoard of coins. Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme

Unearthing a hoard of coins. Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme

The project now has expressions of interest from people working on excavation in Belize, scientists working in laboratories, archaeologists talking about how cuts have affected their work, community archaeologists leading workshops and museum educators teaching the next generation about the magic of archaeology. The very first post to be published, at 00:01 on the 29 July, will be from Maev Kennedy, who writes about archaeology – among other things – for the Guardian newspaper, about why she is in awe of archaeology.

Once complete, the experiment will form part of Lorna’s PhD research and will also be written up for academic publication and be used as a model for public engagement at this year’s Theoretical Archaeological Group conference in Birmingham.

So if you are an archaeologist, or have been, or you are even becoming one, there’s still time to sign up. Send the project team an email at dayofarchaeology@gmail.com or find out more by visiting the website.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Portable Antiquities and Treasure, , ,

130 objects, 3,000 years of history: pharaoh exhibition opens

Margaret Maitland, British Museum

In just under two weeks, over 3,000 years of history – in the shape of 130 objects – has been installed at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle upon Tyne for the British Museum UK touring exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt. The objects span almost the entire extent of ancient Egyptian history, from an exquisite ebony label belonging to one of the very first rulers of Egypt to a monument depicting the Roman Emperor Tiberius as an Egyptian pharaoh.

The exhibition focuses on the kings of Egypt, but there is an incredibly diverse selection of objects, which presented a wide range of challenges in the installation. Among the objects is a tiny pendant of King Senusret II that transforms the hieroglyphs which spell out his name into a decorative piece, delicately crafted from gold and colourful semi-precious stones. To display this beautiful piece of jewellery and other small items, the museum assistants handcraft special mounts for each object.

Pendant of King Senusret II, about 1897-1878 BC.

Pendant of King Senusret II, about 1897-1878 BC.

The monumental objects presented the biggest technical challenges, a task for museum assistants Emily Taylor, Simon Prentice, and Emma Lunn. One of the most fascinating objects to install was the massive wooden statue of Ramses I, which would have stood guard protecting an inner chamber in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Towering two metres high, this massive statue has been skilfully conserved but is still fragile, and it was a slow and cautious operation to remove him from his enormous crate, condition check him, and slowly and carefully manoeuvre him into his case.

Museum assistants from the British Museum move Ramses I into position.

Museum assistants from the British Museum move Ramses I into position.

Ramses’ new home in the exhibition space, designed and built by Tyne & Wear, evokes an Egyptian tomb and temple landscape to convey where many of the objects were found. The exhibition text, created in collaboration between British Museum curator Neal Spencer, Great North Museum manager Sarah Glynn, Tyne & Wear curator Gill Scott, and myself, uses these objects to tell both sides of the story of Egyptian kingship: the powerful image the kings wanted to show their subjects and the rest of the ancient world, and stories they might not have wanted you to hear, about civil wars, palace conspiracies, assassinations, foreign conquerors, and female kings.

On Saturday 16 July, the exhibition opens to the public. It has been an incredible experience working with such a great team and amazing ancient objects and I’m thrilled to think of how many more people will now have the chance to enjoy them.

British Museum Director, Neil McGregor spoke eloquently at the official opening of the importance of this exhibition and others like it in bringing the national collection to people around the UK. Although ancient Egyptian pharaohs preferred to safeguard their power by restricting access to their palaces, temples, and knowledge, this free exhibition will share their splendour through the British Museum collection with audiences all over the country.

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Filed under: Exhibitions, Pharaoh: King of Egypt, ,

The pharaohs are coming

Margaret Maitland, British Museum

Some of ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs — Thutmosis III, Ramesses the Great, and many more — have now arrived at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The journey north from the British Museum, with the museum assistant team and the 130 objects for the exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt, took almost seven hours, but these objects are no strangers to long journeys. Before these magnificent sculptures and intricate jewellery took shape in the hands of ancient Egyptian master craftsmen, their materials were sourced from distant lands pharaohs sought to conquer, such as gold from Nubia (Sudan) and cedar from Lebanon.

Unpacking a statue of Ramesses the great

Unpacking a statue of Ramesses the great

Despite running slightly behind schedule, our hosts at the Great North Museum gave us a warm welcome and a helping hand in unloading the dozens of crates, weighing several tonnes in total. The process leading up to our arrival has been a much longer journey though; bringing any exhibition to life is a team effort but especially with this one, considering the collaborative process and many venues involved.

The exquisite objects were chosen from the British Museum collection by exhibition curator Neal Spencer, but before any object can go on loan, it needs to be assessed by the Museum’s conservators, who gauge the objects’ stability and consolidate them. Not everything on a curator’s wish list for an exhibition is always stable enough and if it isn’t approved, it won’t go; the objects’ safety comes first.

Installing Ramesses the great in the gallery

Installing Ramesses the great in the gallery

A lot of planning and preparation then goes into ensuring the safe packing and moving of objects. The crates that large objects travel in are custom-built to fit each one. Foam pads are tailored to fit perfectly around each object to prevent any movement within the crate, and they are wrapped in sheets of strong but breathable polyethelyne to prevent any friction.

Since our arrival, Senior Museum Assistant Evan York and Museum Assistant Emily Taylor – both from the British Museum – have been busy moving the 130 objects into place, with the aid of a crane, stacker, palette truck, and a bit of muscle and ingenuity. With their expert skills, they make moving an over 600 kilogram statue of Ramesses the great look easy.

Margaret Maitland from the British Museum and Rachel Metcalfe from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums check each object.

Margaret Maitland from the British Museum and Rachel Metcalfe from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums check each object.

I have been working with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums conservator Rachel Metcalfe and curator Gill Scott checking each object against photographs taken before transport to ensure everything has arrived in good condition.

Alex Garrett from the British Museum adjusting the display

Alex Garrett from the British Museum adjusting the display

Museum Assistant Alex Garrett, also from the British Museum, has been helping to painstakingly arrange objects in the cases, with input from the designers and curators from Tyne & Wear and the British Museum. Deciding the exact positioning can be a complex process, as various considerations have to be taken into account from ensuring the objects’ stability to creating a pleasing visual effect and maximizing visitors’ understanding.

After over a year of planning and many long hours of hard work from dozens of people, it is extremely satisfying to see the objects and labels finally taking their positions in what will surely be an exhibition fit for a pharaoh.

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Filed under: Exhibitions, Pharaoh: King of Egypt

Newly-acquired Cycladic figurine goes on display

Lesley Fitton, British Museum

Marble Cycladic figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type Made in the Cyclades, Greece, about 2300–2200 BC

The Cycladic gallery (Room 11) at the British Museum now has a new addition – an extremely rare marble figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type.

He is the first male figurine to be added to the collection, and so is vastly outnumbered by the female figurines surrounding him, but he looks lovely and very much at home in his new surroundings. You can even see the ‘ghosts’ of his painted eyes, so the lighting is, luckily, just right.

The ‘hunter-warriors’ are so called because they show an active male role. They are defined by the presence of a shoulder-strap (baldric) and a belt, and some are also shown with a dagger. This one has no dagger, but we have decided to display him next to an actual dagger of the same period. He is also near to a female figurine of the late, Chalandriani variety, so it’s possible to see how he fits towards the end of the sequence of production. He was made in the Cyclades (the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea) around 2300-2200BC.

Male Cycladic figurines are rare, but ‘hunter-warriors’ are more rare still – in fact, only three other relatively well-preserved examples are known worldwide. We had scarcely expected to be able to make such a significant acquisition, but this piece comes with a good history that adds to its fascination. It belonged to the abstract-expressionist artist Wolfgang Paalen, who lived in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.

Marble Cycladic figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type Made in the Cyclades, Greece, about 2300–2200 BC

Interest in early creations such as Cycladic figurines, along with excitement about the arts of Africa, pre-Columbian South America and Polynesia, were characteristic of artistic circles in Paris at this time. In the mid-1930s Paalen produced what he called his ‘Cycladic paintings’. The influence of objects such as this figurine is very apparent in these works and we have included a small image of one of them in the display.

We would hope in the future to borrow a Paalen ‘Cycladic’ painting to show alongside the wonderful new figurine, which contributes so significantly to both an ancient Cycladic and a modern Parisian story.

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This acquisition was made possible by the Art Fund and generous private donations

Filed under: Collection, , ,

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