The British Museum Collection reaches record audiences worldwide
On the occasion of the publication of the Annual Review of 2010/11, the British Museum announces future plans alongside a review of international successes in the last year.
Review of 2010/11:
The British Museum remained the most popular cultural attraction in the UK for a fourth year running, receiving 5.8 million visitors in 2010/2011, 4.9% more than in the previous year.
The BM website continued to diversify with the launch in 2010 of a Chinese language version and a version in Arabic, both supported by the World Collections Programme. Online collection records grew to 1.93 million. There are now nearly 800,000 images of the collection available for public consultation on the BM website. About 8.7 million people accessed the main BM website in 2010/11, with 21 million visits overall to all the BM websites.
Popular temporary exhibitions continue to draw in large numbers of visitors, with Italian Renaissance Drawings, supported by BP, receiving over 116,000 visitors and Journey Through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, also supported by BP, receiving 192,000 visitors. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch has received over 95,000 visitors so far and has been extended by a month to 17th July 2011. Over 400,000 visitors enjoyed temporary exhibitions in the Reading Room and Room 35 in 2010/11.
Free exhibitions are hugely popular and continue to offer visitors a chance to explore more focused subject matter and provide unique insight into the British Museum’s unrivalled collection. Australia Season, supported by Rio Tinto, runs until the end of September. It includes a landscape on the Forecourt created in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and two free exhibitions, Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas and Baskets and Belongings: Indigenous Australian histories which are averaging 1,500 visitors per day.
As part of the Museum’s ongoing series of major exhibitions on Spiritual Journeys exploring stories of faith, Treasures of Heaven: saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe recently opened following Journey Through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. The series will conclude in 2012 with Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam.
Funding has been secured for two new gallery spaces. The Citi Money Gallery has been sponsored by Citi and will open in 2012 to present a view of world history through money dating from around 2000 BC to the present day. A major redisplay of Room 41, Europe and the Mediterranean between AD 300 and 1100 has been made possible by a generous donation from Paul and Jill Ruddock, (who also funded the Paul and Jill Ruddock Medieval Gallery). The BM’s collections on this period are among the best in the world and reach from North Africa to Scandinavia and from the Atlantic to the Asian Steppes. The new display will house treasures such as the famous material from Sutton Hoo and the Vale of York Viking Hoard and will open in 2013/14.
Funding totalling £99 million towards the total target of £135 million (over 80%of the total) has been secured for the World Conservation and Exhibition Centre. In addition, the Heritage Lottery Fund have confirmed their initial support of £10million on top of this figure. Monument and Linbury Trusts have already committed £25million, with additional funds from DCMS and the BM’s reserves. The centre will provide a safe and secure environment to house the collection, and allow the Museum and its partners to research, conserve and preserve it in state of the art facilities.
Sharing the collection continues to be a vital part of the Museum’s outreach programme. In 2010/11 the BM loaned 2981 objects nationally across the UK to 178 venues, an increase of 47% on the previous year. 1607 objects were lent through the International loans programme to 125 venues outside the country, an increase of 39% on the previous year.
One of the most significant initiatives in the last year was the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder (often called the first declaration of human rights) to Tehran. It was seen by over 1 million people in Tehran and the loan extended from an initial four months to seven due to overwhelming demand. The loan had a huge impact on UK/Iranian cultural relations and is a perfect example of genuine cultural exchange despite difficult political relations.
The British Museum was awarded The Art Fund Prize 2011 for A History of the World, the successful partnership project with the BBC and over 550 UK heritage venues. The Prize will pay for a series of Spotlight Tours, lending star British Museum objects around England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The first tour will feature the impressive Mildenhall Great Dish which will travel to Ipswich museum later in the year.
Acquisitions are hugely important to keep the collection dynamic and reflective of all world cultures. With the assistance of the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the British Museum Friends and Patrons the Nimrud ivories and a significant Cycladic figurine have been acquired earlier this year.
The Great Dish from the Mildenhall treasure. Roman Britain, 4th century AD. Found in Mildenhall, Suffolk.
Looking ahead to 2011/12:
This summer the British Museum is lending over 130 objects to the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne for the exhibition PHARAOH: King of Egypt. Many of these loans have never before been displayed outside of London and feature highlights from the British Museum’s world class collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts exploring the myths and the real life realities of kingship. The award winning Great North Museum: Hancock, has worked closely with the British Museum to create PHARAOH: King of Egypt which will be the largest ever UK exhibition of ancient Egyptian artefacts on loan from the British Museum.
As part of the Spotlights Tour the Mildenhall Great Dish will be returning to Suffolk for the first time since its discovery in 1942. The magnificant 4th century silver dish will go on public display at Ipswich Museum early next year having last been lent to Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery in 2005. The Great Dish is the most famous object of the Mildenhall treasure which is one of the most important collections of late-Roman silver tableware from the Roman Empire. The 'Great Dish', also known as the 'Neptune' or 'Oceanus Dish' features Bacchic imagery which had a long history in Greek and Roman art, and this example is one of the finest to survive from the late-Roman period. This loan is a part of the British Museum’s continuing work to support Ipswich in their plans to redevelop the main museum.
Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
6th October 2011 – 19th February 2012
British artist Grayson Perry has been invited by the British Museum to put together an exhibition featuring objects from the Museum’s extensive collection. Exploring the Museum’s vast collection, Perry will choose an eclectic selection of objects from right across world cultures, from Polynesian fetishes to Buddhist votive offerings. In addition to the British Museum objects, Perry is also making an artwork especially for the exhibition. At the exhibition’s heart will be his new work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, an elaborate, richly decorated cast-iron coffin-ship, a vessel weighted with the freight of Perry’s imagination and an eloquent testament to the numberless forgotten artists who made the objects to be found in the British Museum today.
The Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam
26th January – 15th April 2012
The first major exhibition on the Hajj bringing together a wealth of objects from a number of different collections including important historic pieces from Saudi Arabia and Turkey as well as new contemporary art works. The show will include treasures which are rarely on public display and have never been seen in Europe.
As the pilgrimage to Makkah, the Hajj is one of the five pillars of the faith of Islam and draws millions of pilgrims annually from across the world. The show will focus on the Muslim’s sacred duty to travel to the heartland of Islam where the Prophet Muhammad received the revelation in the early 7th century. The exhibition will contain objects from across time and place reflecting personal stories and the many cultures brought together by the Hajj including artefacts, fabrics, literature and works by contemporary artists. This exhibition will be the third in the British Museum’s new series on Spiritual Journey’s following the success of the Great Rulers series.
In March 2011 the Museum announced a major new archaeological acquisition of the Nimrud Ivories, the finest collection of carved, decorative ivories excavated in the Middle East. This acquisition was made possible by generous support from donors including the British Museum Friends, the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). The majority of the funds were raised with the support of the British Museum Friends and a six month appeal to members which saw over 1,800 members donate.
Some of these precious pieces of elephant ivory are nearly 3,000 years old and were excavated from Nimrud in modern day Iraq in the mid-20th century. These objects represent an important addition to the museum’s Middle East collection and form its largest acquisition since the Second World War. The British Museum already holds many objects in other materials from Nimrud, including the famous Assyrian reliefs, so the addition of the ivories will mean that the whole Nimrud collection can be seen together.
Marble Cycladic figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type
Made in the Cyclades, Greece, c. 2300–2200 BC
The British Museum is delighted to announce the acquisition of a rare and important Cycladic figurine. Made of marble and 21.6cms tall, the figurine is male and characterised by a diagonal shoulder-strap or baldric and a belt. Such figurines clearly show an active male role and have therefore been called ‘hunter-warriors’. The British Museum collections include some 25 female Cycladic figurines, representing all the main types, but did not previously include a male figurine. This acquisition is therefore of immense importance, enabling a much fuller picture. The figurine can be shown to belong quite late in the remarkably long-lived tradition of figurine production.
The figurine’s later history adds immensely to its importance. It belonged to the abstract-expressionist artist Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959) who lived and worked in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Paalen gave or sold the figurine to a private individual in New York in 1952, and it comes to the British Museum from this private collection. It was lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and has been exhibited there for some ten years before its acquisition by the British Museum. The acquisition has been made possible by the Art Fund and generous private donations.