Medals of Dishonour

25 June – 27 September 2009

Exhibition closed

Room 90

Supported by Chora

Medals are best known for celebrating important figures or heroic deeds, but this unique exhibition features medals that condemn their subjects. The display exposes the long and rich tradition of this darker side of medals.

The first part of the exhibition focuses on the Museum’s collection of satirical and political medals from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Subjects range from the sombre and the bizarre to the scatological and the humorous, and the medals will be placed in context through the use of contemporary prints and drawings. Two of US sculptor David Smith's influential Medals for Dishonor of the 1930s (from which the exhibition borrows its title) are included, along with a little-known medal by Marcel Duchamp.

The second part of the exhibition features medals recently commissioned from leading contemporary artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, William Kentridge, Grayson Perry, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Richard Hamilton, Mona Hatoum, Ellen Gallagher, Langlands and Bell, Cornelia Parker, Michael Landy, Yun-Fei Ji, Steve Bell and Felicity Powell.

The subjects they depict are wide-ranging, from the war in Iraq and consumerism to ASBOs and the environment. The new medals have been commissioned by the British Art Medal Trust, a registered charity dedicated to the making and study of medals. The Trust has presented an example of each of the newly commissioned medals to the British Museum for its permanent collection.

Gold medal by Felicien Rops
  • 1

    Gold medal by Felicien Rops, 1858, Belgium

  • 2

    Bronze medal by Erzsebet Esseo, 1919, Hungary

  • 3

    Pewter medal by John Gregory Hancock, 1800, Britain

  • 4

    Silver medal by Christian Wermuth, 1720, Germany

  • 5

    Private Law and Order Leagues, David Smith, 1939 © Estate of David Smith

  • 6

    CDM, 2008 © Steve Bell

  • 7

    Meddling with Dishonour, 2008 © Jake and Dinos Chapman

  • 8

    An Experiment of Unusual Opportunity, 2008 © Ellen Gallagher

  • 9

    The Hutton Award, 2008 © Richard Hamilton

  • 10

    Medal Of Dishonour, 2008 © Mona Hatoum, obverse

  • 11

    Coalition of the Willing, 2008 © Yun-Fei Ji

  • 12

    Medal Of Dishonour, 2007 © Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

  • 13

    Greed Envy Rage, 2008 © William Kentridge

  • 14

    ASBO medal, 2008 © Michael Landy

  • 15

    Virtual World, 2008 © Langlands and Bell

  • 16

    We Know Who You Are. We Know What You Have Done, 2008 © Cornelia Parker

  • 17

    For Faith in Shopping, 2008 © Grayson Perry

  • 18

    Hot Air, 2008 © Felicity Powell

Gold medal by Felicien Rops, 1858, Belgium