British Museum forthcoming exhibitions 2009

Please note that exhibition titles and dates are subject to change and should be checked before going to press.

Major new exhibitions in 2009

Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran

19 February – 14 June 2009
Admission charge, Reading room
Shah `Abbas was a key figure in the creation of modern Iran. Shah of Iran from 1587–1629 AD, his legacy continues to this day and he is remembered as one of the country’s most influential kings. He was a great military leader, credited with keeping his external enemies at bay and quelling a civil war at home.  His trade policies established Iran as a world power. The exhibition will feature many extraordinary loans, never before seen outside of Iran. The exhibition will examine four key sites:  Isfahan, the capital of Shah Abbas, and the three Shi’i shrine cities, Mashhad, Ardabil and Qum, using loans of paintings, manuscripts, ceramics, silks and carpets.
Supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation

Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur

28 May – 23 August 2009
Admission charge, Room 35
Garden and Cosmos provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see rare paintings from the collection of His Highness The Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur. This exhibition will feature a rare loan of fifty-five paintings from India none of which have ever been seen before in Europe. The region of Jodhpur developed distinctive styles of painting between the 17th and 19th centuries, producing one of the most inventive styles in northern India in this period.  Paintings produced for the private enjoyment of the Jodhpur brought together traditional Rajasthani styles and combined them with styles developed in the court of the imperial Mughals. Subjects depicted include the Jodhpur rulers in their gardens, surrounded by their wives whilst a group of later works reflect the devotion of the then Maharaja to an esoteric yogic tradition. Jodhpur artists rose to the challenge of creating images for metaphysical concepts and yoga narratives which had never before been the focus of court art. The exhibition is part of the British Museum’s ‘Indian Summer’. It will be accompanied by an Indian Landscape in the Museum forecourt, in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and an extensive public programme. ‘Indian Summer’ is sponsored by


24 September 2009 – 24 January 2010
Admission charge, Reading room
Completing its series of exhibitions exploring power and empire, the British Museum examines the rule of Moctezuma II, the last elected Aztec Emperor. Moctezuma consolidated control of Aztec hegemony from the shores of Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico in the early 16th century. However, with the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 he witnessed the collapse of the native world order and the imposition of a new civilization that gave birth to modern Mexico. The legacy of these tumultuous events and the semi-mythical status of Moctezuma will be re-assessed through the display of recent archaeological discoveries and loans of iconic material from Mexico, many of which will be seen for the first time in this country.

Other exhibitions

Treasures from Shanghai: ancient Chinese bronzes and jades

29 January – 27 March 2009
Room 2, Admission free
A focused display of sixty spectacular Chinese jades and bronzes lent by the Shanghai Museum which holds one of the finest collections of this material in the world. Ancient jades and bronzes are hugely important objects and have set the artistic standard for China from the Neolithic period. Exquisite early jades carved into strange human-like figures, birds and monsters will feature alongside stunning examples of bronzes from the Zhou dynasty, regarded as a golden age in bronze production. This exhibition is co-organised by the Shanghai Museum and the British Museum with the guidance of the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom, and sponsorship of the Information Office of Shanghai Municipal People's Government, Foreign Affairs Office of Shanghai Municipal People's Government and Bureau of China World Expo Coordination.

The Intimate Portrait: Drawings, Miniatures and Pastels from Ramsay to Lawrence

5 March – 31 May 2009
Room 90, Admission free
A beautiful exhibition that will explore the fascination for intimate portraiture in Georgian Britain between the 1730s and the 1830s, from the origins of polite society and the fashionable art world until the onset of the Victorian era and the invention of photography. This is the first major exhibition in Britain to focus on this great period of portrait drawing, when artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and his great Scottish rival Allan Ramsay, John Downman, George Dance and Thomas Lawrence produced beautifully worked portraits in pencil, chalks, watercolours and pastels, as well as miniatures on ivory. Behind the scenes, in domestic spaces such as sitting rooms, studies, bedrooms and closets, these smaller portraits were at the heart of a more private conversation. But they also had a role in the public sphere, as they were shown in vast numbers at the Royal Academy, often contentiously in the same rooms as large portraits in oils. This exhibition is organized jointly by the British Museum and the National Galleries of Scotland, featuring nearly 200 seldom-seen works from their rich collections. The exhibition will be shown first at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh from 25th October 2008 - 1st February 2009

The splendour of Isfahan: coins from Iran

A coins and medals display
5 March – July 2009
Room 69a, Admission free.
Isfahan became the capital city of Iran under Shah Abbas I in 1598. In Persian it was known to contemporaries as Isfahan nesf-e jahan (Isfahan is half the world) because of its importance and splendour. This is reflected in the brilliant mosques, palace, bridges and cathedrals that survive to this day. At the same time Isfahan has also been an important mint, both in the pre-Islamic period as well as Islamic times. The exhibition will show the history of this splendid city through its coinage, focusing particularly on the Safavid period from the 16th –18th centuries. In addition, objects, bank notes and stamps relating to Isfahan, will draw attention to the importance of the city.  The beauty of Isfahan and the diversity of its crafts continue to attract art lovers up to the present time.

Medals of Dishonour

25 June – 27 September 2009
Room 90, Admission free
Alongside the longstanding and well-known association of medals with glory and achievement there lies another darker tradition of the medal as an indicator of dishonour. Drawing on the Museum’s own collection of satirical and political medals, this exhibition will examine this trend using both historical and contemporary examples. The Humiliation of Louis XIV, 1689 by a Dutch artist, attacks France and its king through a mixture of allegory and ridicule. It features humiliating image of Louis XIV ejecting the contents of his stomach and bowels. A recent series of medals of dishonour has been commissioned by The British Art Medal Trust from contemporary artists including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Felicity Powell, Michael Landy, Grayson Perry and Cornelia Parker among others. The exhibition will feature key examples including William Kentridge’s Greed Envy Rage, 2008 which depicts a megaphone striding through a denuded landscape. Kentridge’s  work is steeped in and responds to the political and historical contingencies of his upbringing as a white Jew in apartheid era South Africa. The exhibition is supported by the Chora initiative of the Annenberg Foundation.

Prints and Revolution: Mexican Prints 1910-1960 (working title)

22 October - 28 February 2009 tbc
Room 90, Admission free
The exhibition will be the first ever in Europe focusing on the great age of Mexican printmaking in the first half of the twentieth century. Between 1910 and 1920 the country was convulsed by the first socialist revolution, from which emerged a strong left-wing government that laid great stress on art as a vehicle for promoting the values of the revolution. This led to a pioneering programme to cover the walls of public buildings with vast murals, and later to setting up print workshops to produce works for mass distribution and education. Some of the finest of these prints were produced by the three great men of Mexican art of the period: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The exhibition will also include earlier works around the turn of the century by the popular engraver, José Guadalupe Posada, who was adopted by the revolutionaries as the archetypal printmaker who worked for the people, and whose macabre dances of skeletons have always fascinated Europeans.

Room 3: The Asahi Shimbun Displays

Room 3 sits just inside the main entrance to the British Museum and hosts a series of free regularly changing exhibitions focused on a single object or theme. For 2009 featured exhibitions include:
The Sámi Magi Drum (27 November – 18 January 2009),  an early drum from the Sámi people (northern Scandinavia, sub-Arctic),  bequeathed to the Museum by Sir Hans Sloane.  The design of the drum is unique and covered in painted images that are accounts of journeys, maps and guides to other realms;  Takhti – Hero and Iranian Icon (19 February – 19 April 2009), the display of a recent acquisition of contemporary Iranian art. The piece is a large shrine-like object made by the Iranian artist Khusrow Hassanzade inspired by the image of Takhti (d.1968) a national hero from Iran renowned for his physical prowess as a wrestler and also his good social deeds; The Raffles Gamelan  (21 May – 12 July 2009), the display of one of the most important instruments of its kind,  decorated with fantastic beasts such as dragons and mythic birds.

New permanent galleries

Medieval Gallery

March 2009, Admission free
A new gallery dedicated to the Museum’s pre-eminent collection of medieval material will open next year. The gallery provides a wonderful opportunity to place some of the finest pieces in the collection in their fullest historical context around a broad chronology from 1050AD to 1550AD. The gallery will include unique objects such as the famous, fourteenth century Royal Gold Cup and the enigmatic Lewis Chessmen. The intricately carved citole, the earliest surviving extant medieval musical instrument, will provide a platform from which to understand the rituals and protocols surrounding aristocratic amusement.  The gallery will also feature sacred art and objects which highlight the major devotional developments of the age from the flourishing of the monasteries from the mid-eleventh century to their dissolution in the sixteenth. The Byzantine Empire will also feature, the gallery will examine its role as a trading centre and as a centre of intellectual and artistic ferment.

The Sir Percival David Collection in the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies

April 2009, Admission free
The outstanding Percival David Collection of Chinese Art will go on permanent public display in a specially designed new gallery developed thanks to the generosity of Sir Joseph Hotung. Containing 1,752 items of Chinese ceramics from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (the 10th to the early 20th century), the Percival David Foundation collection is unparalleled in quality outside China. The display at the Museum of this extraordinarily rich material will allow six million visitors a year access to the finest collection of Chinese ceramics outside Beijing, Shanghai or Taipei, Taiwan. The public gallery will be part of the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies, which will include facilities to use the collection for teaching.

Exhibitions at other venues in the UK

Throughout 2009 the British Museum will be touring exhibitions to venues across the country through the Partnership UK programme, as well as contributing to numerous other exhibitions and displays nationwide. Highlights include:

Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes concludes its tour to six venues around the UK, moving from South Shields Museum to the Burrell Collection in Glasgow where it opens on the 7 February, 2009. At all venues the exhibition has drawn record visitor figures, particularly from schools for whose needs it was particularly designed.  Funded through the DCMS/DCFS National/Regional Museum Partnerships Education Programme 2008-09 and the generosity of the Dorset Foundation.

China: Journey to the East will be the largest UK loan of Chinese material the Museum has ever made. Supplemented by items from partner museum collections it offers visitors the chance to experience real artefacts from 3,000 years of Chinese history and culture. The exhibition will be launched at Bristol‘s City Museum & Art Gallery on the 23 January 2009. The tour will continue to five other UK venues: The Herbert, Coventry; Willis Museum, Basingstoke; Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden; York Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum. Supported by BP, a CHINA NOW legacy project. Additional funding through the DCMS/DCFS National/Regional Museum Partnerships Education Programme 2008-09

The American Scene: prints from Hopper to Pollock was one of the most popular fine art exhibitions ever held in London, with more than 355,000 visitors to the British Museum. Visitors to the Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham: 28 February – 19 April 2009; Brighton Museum & Art Gallery: 2 May – 31 August 2009; and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester: 19 September – 13 December 2009 will now have the opportunity to see this exciting collection of American prints from the first half of the twentieth century. The tour has been funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Fabric of a Nation: textiles and identity in modern Ghana focuses on the role of printed cloths and their designs as an expression of cultural, social and political identity in modern Ghana, cutting across ethnic and language differences. The display  began at the British Museum in 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of Ghanaian independence then was shown to great success at the Shipley Art Gallery in 2008, the tour continuing onward to Cartwright Hall, Bradford; (13 December – 15 February 2009); Eastleigh Museum, Hampshire: 28 February - 25 April; Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham: 2 May - 27 June; Wardown Park Museum, Luton: 8 August – 8 November 2009; Horniman Museum, London: 28 November – 28 February 2010. Supported through the generosity of the Dorset Foundation.

International exhibitions

The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece

MARQ, Alicante, Spain
3 April 2009 – 5 October 2009
The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece contains 125 objects from the British Museum's rich Greek and Roman collection. This new exhibition offers a visually engaging and thought-provoking exploration of the human condition seen through ancient Greek eyes. Over two thousand years the Greeks experimented with representing the human body in works that range from abstract simplicity to full-blown realism. Through this essential and long lasting theme of human representation, the exhibition offers to the public a unique opportunity to engage with artworks which have shaped our Western aesthetics.  The artefacts to be displayed include "Discobolus" the iconic representation of a discus thrower which had never been on loan from the Museum before this tour.

Treasures of the World’s Cultures

Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria
1 May 2009 – 30 September 2009
Treasures of the World’s Cultures brings together over 250 of the Museum's most important objects. The exhibition surveys human culture across civilisations, tracing the history of mankind from prehistory to the modern age. The displayed material is both materially and visually diverse, and whilst on tour these objects have ranged from life-size classical sculptures to exquisite gold jewellery excavated in ancient Mesopotamia, from drawings by Renaissance masters to Native North American animal-skin coats. The exhibition allows the visitor to experience, in a distilled form, the breadth and diversity of the British Museum collections as it is presented in London. The international tour of ‘Treasures of the World’s Cultures’ has already been enjoyed by large audiences in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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