What’s on at the British Museum in 2020?

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2020 is packed with show-stopping exhibitions, brought to life with a programme of exciting events – from storytelling for adults, to free talks and family workshops.

Here is a run through of our major exhibition and free displays highlights. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news.

Major exhibitions

The BP exhibition

Troy: myth and reality

Until 8 March 2020
The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, Room 30

Filippo Albacini (1777–1858), The Wounded Achilles. Marble, 1825. © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.

The legend of Troy has endured for more than 3,000 years. The story of a great city, plunged into a 10-year war over the abduction of the most beautiful woman in the world is irresistibly dramatic and has sent archaeologists in quest of the lost city, now widely believed to have existed. But what of the heroes and the heartbroken, the women and the wanderers, of the Trojan War? Get closer to these captivating characters as you explore the breath-taking art that brings them to life, from exquisite ancient sculptures and vase paintings to powerful contemporary works. You can also examine the fascinating archaeological evidence that proves there was a real Troy – and offers tantalising hints at the truth behind the mythical stories.

Supported by BP

Tantra: enlightenment to revolution

23 April – 26 July 2020
The Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery, Room 35

Painted and gilded clay figure of Kali striding over Shiva, Bengal, Eastern India, late 19th century.

Explore the radical force that transformed the religious, cultural and political landscape of India and beyond in this landmark exhibition. A philosophy originating in medieval India, Tantra has been linked to successive waves of revolutionary thought, from the Indian fight for independence to the rise of 1960s counterculture. Elements of Tantric philosophy can be found across Asia’s diverse cultures but it remains largely unknown – or misrepresented – in the West. The exhibition showcases extraordinary objects from India, Nepal, Tibet, Japan and the UK, from the seventh century AD to the present, and includes masterpieces of sculpture, paintings, prints and ritual objects.

Supported by the Bagri Foundation

The Citi exhibition

Arctic: culture and climate

28 May – 23 August 2020
The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, Room 30

Kiliii Yuyan (b. 1979), Umiaq and north wind during spring whaling. Inkjet print, 2019.
© Kiliii Yuyan.

Home to rich cultures for nearly 30,000 years, the Arctic is far from the inhospitable hinterland it is often imagined to be. From 28,000-year-old mammoth ivory jewellery to modern refitted snow mobiles, the objects in this immersive exhibition reveal the creativity and resourcefulness of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. But the dramatic loss of ice caused by climate change is testing their adaptive capacities and threatening their way of life. What happens in the Arctic will affect us all and this exhibition is a timely reminder of what the world can learn from its people.

Lead supporter Citi

Supported by Julie and Stephen Fitzgerald, and AKO Foundation 

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint (title to be confirmed)

15 October 2020 – 14 February 2021
The Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery, Room 35

Copper alloy reliquary casket with a scene depicting the murder of Thomas Becket. France, early 13th century.

The assassination of Thomas Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral, on 29 December 1170, changed the course of history. Becket was one of the most powerful figures of his time, serving as royal Chancellor and later as Archbishop of Canterbury. Initially a close friend of King Henry II, the two men became engaged in a bitter dispute that culminated in Becket’s shocking murder by knights close to the king. Marking the 850th anniversary of this dramatic crime, this major exhibition will present Becket’s tumultuous journey – from merchant’s son to Archbishop – and from a revered saint in death, to a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of Henry VIII, over 350 years later. Get up close to the man, the murder and the legend through an incredible array of objects, from medieval stained glass and manuscripts to jewellery and sacred reliquaries.

Supported by
The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation
The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts
Jack Ryan and Zemen Paulos

The BP exhibition

Nero (title to be confirmed)

12 November 2020 – 28 March 2021
Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, Room 30

Copper head of the emperor Nero or Claudius. 1st century AD. Found at the River Alde at Rendham, near Saxmundham, Suffolk.

Nero (r. AD 54–68) is known as one of the most infamous rulers from Roman history. The last male descendant of Rome’s first emperor Augustus, he succeeded to the throne aged only 16 and died a violent death at 30. His turbulent reign witnessed the Boudicca rebellion in Britain and the Great Fire of Rome, the murder of his mother and first wife, grand projects and extravagant excesses. Through some 200 spectacular objects, from luxury arts to precious papyri, from the imperial palace in Rome and the streets of Pompeii, to destroyed cities and battlefields, visitors can make up their own minds about Nero. Was he a young, inexperienced ruler trying his best in a divided society and an unfit institution, or a merciless, matricidal megalomaniac?

Free exhibitions and displays

The Asahi Shimbun Displays

Disposable? rubbish and us

Until 23 February 2020
Room 3

Ceramic conical cup, Minoa, 1700–1450 BC. Antler, bone, bronze ceramic, jet, Staple Howe, 700–450 BC.

Today there is increasing awareness of the devastating impact of plastic waste, but humans have been creating rubbish for as long as we have been making objects. This small display considers the historical creation of single-use and repurposed objects and presents a practical creative use for some of the plastic waste washing up on Pacific islands. Disposable is an intriguing look at our changing relationship with the things we throw away, as we struggle to deal with today’s unprecedented levels of waste.

Supported by The Asahi Shimbun

Living with art: Picasso to Celmins

Until 5 March 2020
Prints and Drawings, Room 90a

David Hockney (b. 1937), Jungle Boy. Etching and aquatint in black and red on mould-made paper, 1964.
© David Hockney. Photo credit: Richard Schmidt.

Take a highlights tour of nearly 100 years of art in this exhibition of works from the collection of Alexander Walker (1930–2003), longstanding film critic for London’s Evening Standard newspaper and prolific collector of modern and contemporary prints and drawings. From Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to Lucian Freud, Bridget Riley, David Hockney and Vija Celmins, the array of work Walker assembled in his Maida Vale flat – including his kitchen and bathroom – is astonishing. With the support of the Dorset Foundation, the exhibition will travel to four UK venues from April 2020 until May 2021.

Currency in crisis: German emergency money 1914–1924

Until 29 March 2020
Coins and Medals, Room 69a

Examples of Notgeld from the early 20th century.

Notgeld, or ‘emergency money’, is a powerful illustration of German instability from the First World War to 1924. This display reveals how this temporary currency responded to a national crisis with designs featuring regional landmarks and folk narratives – and how Germans viewed their homeland and identity.

Sponsored by Arts and Humanities Research Council

French Impressions: prints from Manet to Cézanne

20 February – 9 August 2020
Prints and Drawings, Room 90

Édouard Manet (1832–1883), Berthe Morisot: première planchet. Lithograph, 1872–1874.

Explore the flourishing print movement of late 19th-century France in this extraordinary free display. Drawing from the Museum’s rich collection of prints from Manet to Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec to Cézanne – this display captures the vibrant and dynamic world of the Impressionists as they explored the exciting possibilities of printmaking.

Supported by Ronald E. Bornstein

Piranesi drawings: visions of antiquity

20 February – 9 August 2020
Prints and Drawings, Room 90

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), courtyard view with dome. Pen and brown ink over chalk, 1742–1743.

Step back in time in this landmark display of drawings by Neoclassicist printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Celebrating the 300th anniversary of his birth in 1720, this display presents the Museum’s complete collection of Piranesi’s drawings, which is unique in being entirely by the master himself. Explore the formidable quality of his pen and chalk studies and track his artistic evolution in this stunning new display.

Supported by the Tavolozza Foundation

Geoffrey Clarke: a sculptor’s studio

6 March – 19 April 2020
Prints and Drawings, Room 90a

This display celebrates a bequest of works from the studio of the prolific post-war sculptor, Geoffrey Clarke RA (1924–2014). Comprising medals, prints, sketches and notes, this significant collection unites many threads of Clarke’s work. Trained in Lancaster and London in the aftermath of the Second World War, Clarke is recognised as an important sculptor of the post-war era, having worked on some of the most prestigious artistic projects of the age, including Coventry Cathedral and the Festival of Britain. No less significant was his activity as a medallist and a printmaker, one of the key focuses of the display, which will combine fine impressions of some of Clarke’s best-known prints with the artist’s heavily annotated proofs.

Edmund de Waal: library of exile

12 March – 8 September 2020
Collecting the world, Room 2

Edmund de Waal (b. 1964), psalm, I (detail), 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo by Hélène Binet.

‘A place of translation, a space to sit and read and be’, the acclaimed installation library of exile by British artist and author Edmund de Waal houses more than 2,000 books, written by exiled writers. From Ovid to Dante and Victor Hugo to André Aciman, the books in the library form a record of repression, as well as celebrating the writing of the displaced. Visitors are invited to come in, read and reflect.

Supported by AKO Foundation

The Asahi Shimbun Displays

Raphael in 2020: emerging artists respond

19 March – 17 May 2020
Room 3

Eva Suhajek (b. 1996), Dialog with Raphael (detail). Mixed media on MDF, 2019. © Eva Suhajek.

On the 500th anniversary Raphael’s death, this display places one of the Renaissance master’s spectacular drawings amid the work of emerging artists who have been inspired by it. Illuminating key aspects of Raphael’s process and subject matter, these artworks offer modern responses related to issues of idealised beauty, artistic development and the iconic status of Renaissance artists. This display invites you to consider how the past influences the present and how contemporary art can help us see history from fresh perspectives.

Supported by The Asahi Shimbun

Rivalling Rome: Parthian coins and culture

2 April – 6 September 2020
Coins and Medals, Room 69a

Roman silver denarius of Mark Antony (left), 40 BC and Parthian silver tetradrachm of Orodes II (right), c. 40 BC.

Explore the interaction and confrontations between two superpowers of the ancient world, Parthia (in Iran) and Rome. Equal to Rome in power and military might, the horse-riding Parthians were crucial to trade on the Silk Road. With coins – and other objects including belts, figurines and a Roman cameo – this small display offers a fascinating insight into this influential ancient Iranian culture.T

The Asahi Shimbun Displays

Tokyo Olympics 1964: sport and cultural diplomacy

11 June – 6 September 2020
Room 3

Coinciding with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, this display looks back at the first time that Tokyo hosted the Games in 1964. A turning point in Japan’s return to the international community after the Asia-Pacific War (1937–1945), the 1964 Games showed how sport can contribute to diplomacy and social change. Featuring the four award-winning 1964 Olympic posters designed by Kamekura Yūsaku, as well as official medals and photobooks, the display examines an important moment in modern Japanese and Olympic history.

Supported by The Asahi Shimbun

Money in the age of Becket (title to be confirmed)

10 September 2020 – 7 February 2021
Coins and Medals, Room 69a

To accompany the Museum’s special autumn exhibition on Thomas Becket, this display will use coins and other numismatic material to explore the complex monetary backdrop to the life and career of Becket. It will examine the political and economic history of England in the 12th century, as well as the monetary developments of Ireland, Scotland and elsewhere in Europe.

The Asahi Shimbun Displays

The Bakor Monoliths: endangered cultural property in eastern Nigeria (title to be confirmed)

1 October – 20 November 2020
Room 3

This display focuses on the akwanshi, a stone monument from the Ikom area of Nigeria. On show alongside photographs from the Museum’s 2016 Africa Rock Art project and replicas of monuments currently in Ikom created by Factum Foundation, the display explores the current threats to cultural heritage in the region through looting of archaeological sites, trade in illicit antiquities and environmental damage, and the Museum’s collaborative work to counter these issues.

Supported by The Asahi Shimbun

The Asahi Shimbun Displays

Making their mark: female silversmiths of Oman (title to be confirmed)

December 2020 – February 2021
Room 3

This display presents the unique but declining tradition of female silversmithing in Dhofar, south-eastern Oman, and is the result of a 2019 collaborative research project between the British Museum, Royal Ontario Museum and National Museum of Oman. View videos of silversmiths and their personal testimonies alongside costume and jewellery. Together, they demonstrate the persistence, adaptability, identity and entrepreneurial acumen which allowed the silversmiths to succeed in a predominantly male-led profession.

Supported by The Asahi Shimbun

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