1/3/09

The British Museum

Reporting from London:

First stop is the Museum to end all Museums, the most comprehensive history of civilization you'll ever find under one roof. More specifically, it's a history told in sculpture.

Amazingly, they allow photographs. So I took some pictures, being sure to not use a flash out of consideration for the well-being of the artifacts. So, sorry about some blurriness. I also didn't take photos of human remains (based on a general policy of respect for the dead) as much as I wanted to in the Egyptian galleries. I also avoided obvious things like the Parthenon sculptures, or the Rosetta Stone (which was too crowded with tourists, and their accompanying miasma of perfume and halitosis, to allow a clear picture), but here are a few shots I took of other stuff:

The oldest thing in the museum is this chopping tool, fabricated by a proto-chimp 1.8 million years ago. Being a sculptor, I would love to travel back in time to meet the hominid that created it. I would shake his furry hand for making the first small step in art. But then, he'd probably kick my ass in return. It's about the size of a baseball, but with greater mass, making it the perfect object to hurl at a new-earth creationist like Sarah Palin. "You think the earth is 4000 years old? Well, here you go, lady! just remember, this object doesn't actually exist!"

Glazed brick panels from Babylon, circa 600 BC. Many artifacts such as this have been destroyed or looted since the decimation of Iraq in 2003. American military bases have even been built directly on top of Babylonian ruins, which goes beyond the realm of war crime and into the territory of crimes against all of humanity. The British Museum's conservators are working to salvage what they can.

From the Mayan Empire, 770 AD. In a bloodletting ritual, the woman kneeling to the left is pulling a thorned rope through her tongue. Next to her is her husband Bird Jaguar, the king, whose ceremonial garb of skull headdress indicates that he is about to perform a similar process by piercing his penis with the perforator he holds in front of his groin. This was called "Mayan foreplay".




I've always had a fascination with The Seven Wonders of The Ancient World since grade school, so seeing actual fragments from three of them nearly gave me a case of Stendhal Syndrome. From the top, here's a piece of beard from the Sphinx of Giza (either 2550 or 1420 BC), a bit of column from the Temple of Artemis (800 BC), and sculptures from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (350 BC).

Built around 1585, This automaton was used to announce banquets at court. Music played from a miniature organ inside the hull, along with percussion instruments. The ship would then travel across the table. Then the front cannon would fire, lighting a fuse to ignite all the other guns on the sides. Vom Deutschland, naturilich.

A temporary exhibit involved contemporary British sculptors showing their works alongside objects in the permanent collection. This included the usual, predictable shenanigans from Damien Hirst, of course. But most impressive was Ron Mueck's massive and beautifully made Head II, juxtaposed with an Easter Island figure.

More to come from across the pond in the next two weeks.

1 comment:

Trish said...

I must have futurechimp on the brain. That guy in the last sculpture (Ron Mueck's Head ll) looks like you, too! What's going on here?