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British Museum

18 January 2014

Friday morning meant my first Collecting Today tutorial so I hopped onto the tube and headed down to university eager to learn and experience new things.

At university, we started our session with a tutorial on the basics of the course and a brief discussion about the Cyrus Cylinder (see the fascinating TED talk here). After grabbing a sandwich on the way with several girls in my class, we all met back up at the British Museum for the afternoon where we visited five exhibits - Clocks & Watches (a narrative approach), Changing Museum (where the oldest items were held), Living & Dying (my least favourite exhibit), the Cyrus Cylinder (which was a replica as the original is on loan in the United States) and Chinese Ceramics (housing a specific collector's collection).


First, we visited the Clocks & Watches exhibit. The material was laid out in a chronological narrative. While everything was beautiful, I was struck by what I believe a jarring discrepancy -- the signage says that "clocks and watches tell us as much about their owners as about the time of day". I beg to differ, aside from knowing the owners were wealthy enough to own a watch or clock, I could find no further telling details.



Next, we visited the Changing Museum (room 2) where the museum's oldest items were held. I have visited this museum several times before but always passed right through for two reasons: (1) the room is 1/3 full with many empty shelves and cases and (2) the lack of apparent care -- there are streaks on the cases and dust! But I am so glad Peter, our tutor, brought us here because otherwise I would have missed seeing these pieces. The oldest item is a chopping tool from Tanzania while there was also "Lovers" a figurine from Judea which is the oldest known sculpture depicting a human emotion (love) worth noting. But because of the streaks on the cases and dust (yuck) I was distracted and put off. You think there'd be more interest in care, no?


Next, we visited the Living & Dying exhibit (room 24) which has never made much sense to me. To each, their own, right? Looking with a critical eye this time, I figured out the reason for my distaste. In the corner is a large display about "your life in their hands" and medicine. The exhibit includes several displays such as "praying for health", "divination" and "journeying to spiritual world". All this is fine and dandy with photos and artefacts related to said display. The jarring part is that in each exhibit there is a modern day photograph in colour (perhaps displaying a Briton? with the hopes of helping you relate?) that has NOTHING to do with each exhibit. Take for example the photo below -- a doctor is examining a man's ankle. What does that have to do with prayer???? And under divination, there was an x-ray photograph! Mind boggling.



And the most interesting exhibit (in my opinion) - the Cyrus Cylinder. After watching the TED video listed above in class, it was fascinating to see the exhibit in person. Granted, this was a copy/fake because the original is on loan in the United States. Bummer I didn't see it at the Getty Villa before my move. Ahh well. Seeing a replica (exact shape and size) definitely helps though in grasping an impression versus photographs online or in a video.

By this time, our lovely class had gone over by a good thirty minutes. Lol. A few girls told me later to never expect a class to end on time although Peter is very generous about letting you go if needed. I was planning on meeting with Heather (a friend I met in LA at Misty's bridal shower) after class but she thankfully had a few exhibits she wanted to see (including the Rosetta Stone) so we met after the final exhibit -- Chinese Ceramics. This exhibit, creating collections based on similarities, was named after two men, one the donor who financed the exhibit and another the owner of the collection.

I found this particular ceramic fascinating as it was a Muslim prayer porcelain made in a country known for Buddhism.

Finally I met up with Heather who looked beautiful in her new sparkly scarf. We headed out and took the obligatory selflies in front of the beautiful exterior of the British Museum and headed off to Covent Garden (which will be covered in another post soon).



Here is to another fabulous week!


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x Joy

 

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