A Museum for the World

British Museum celebrates 250 years with 280 million visitors
and looks to the future

On the occasion of the publication of the Annual Review of 2008/09, the British Museum announces future exhibition plans for 2009/10 alongside a review of international success in the last year.

Review of 2008/09:

2009 saw another anniversary for the British Museum (BM), which has now been open to the public for 250 years. It is estimated that over 280 million people have visited the Museum’s unparalleled world collection in that time, 5.93 million in 2008 alone. The British Museum is the most popular visitor attraction in the UK. April, May and June 2009 have seen a 10.8% increase in visitor figures on 2008. (1.44 million in 2009, 1.3 million in 2008)

Virtual visitors continue to grow, 13million visit the BM’s websites each year.  The BM has committed to increasing access to the collections online. 1.25 million objects from the collection can already be researched online with 408,000 objects accompanied by high-resolution images which can be downloaded for free by anyone at any time. This service has been warmly received by scholars, students and members of the public alike.

Temporary exhibitions continue to draw visitors, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict exceeded its visitor target by over 100,000 (with 255,000 visitors in total), Babylon: Myth and Reality received 162,000 visitors and Shah ‘Abbas: The Remaking of Iran was seen by 106,000.  Free exhibitions were also well –attended with the BM’s overview of American printmaking, The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock, being seen by over 413,000 visitors. The exhibition is now touring across the UK.

The permanent collection is at the heart of the Museum: growing, changing, re-imagined by successive generations as intellectual currents and social and political concerns evolve. The Museum spent £1.5million on acquisitions during the year, as well as receiving significant donations and assistance from funding bodies such as the British Museum Friends, The Art Fund and the NHMF. These gifts highlight the vital role of private philanthropy to ensure a relevant, dynamic and evolving collection, the lifeblood of any museum. Prints from Japan, America, Mexico and Australia, Sudanese rock gongs, banknotes, treasure finds and mosaics are just a few examples of the objects added to the collection in the last year.

Sharing the collection continues to be a vital part of the BM’s work. In 2008/9 the BM loaned 2,669 objects nationally across the UK, an increase of 14% on the previous year. Internationally, the Museum lent 1,754 objects to 132 venues outside the country. Including Bernini to LA, Charles Darwin to Sydney and Benin to Berlin. 

The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece continues to tour internationally, it is currently in Alicante where it is being seen by over 1,000 visitors a day. We hope the exhibition will then tour Asia (to Korea, Taiwan, Japan).

Looking ahead to 2009/10:

The Museum will complete its series of shows on great leaders of the world when Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler opens on 24 September 2009. The exhibition features new scholarship and extraordinary international loans as a result of the Museum’s strong relationships with colleagues in Mexico. The exhibition is the first to examine the semi-mythical status of Moctezuma and his legacy today and is produced in collaboration with National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH). Supported by ArcelorMittal. Additional support has been given by the airline partner, Mexicana.

Revolution on Paper: Mexican Prints 1910 – 1950 is the first exhibition in Europe to focus on the great age of Mexican printmaking. The prints, including many recent acquisitions, are from the Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition will allow visitors to focus on a more recent period in Mexico’s history and will anticipate the anniversaries in 2010 of the Independence of Mexico (1810) and of the Mexican Revolution (1910). Supported by The Monument Trust and the Mexico Tourist Board.

More information on the exhibitions below

The value of the British Museum’s collection lies in its ability to present an overview of world cultures. In 2010 two exhibitions will allow visitors to immerse themselves in two very different artistic traditions which flourished on opposite sides of the world in the 15th century. Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa throws light on the development of bronze casting in Ife (modern Nigeria) from the 12th – 15th century. Extraordinary sculptures and figures were produced in stone, bronze and terracotta which are both technically sophisticated and aesthetically supreme. This will be the first exhibition dedicated to Ife art outside of Nigeria. This development in African art took place at around the same time as the Renaissance in Europe and our second exhibition will profile this important artistic period in the west. The BP special exhibition Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings brings together the two great collections of this material, from the BM and the Uffizi in Florence. Presenting an overview of the development of drawing throughout Italy, the exhibition will cover the period 1400 – 1510, from the beginning of the Renaissance to the early drawings of Raphael and Michelangelo. It will offer a rare glimpse into the mind and technique of some of the most celebrated Renaissance artists.

More information on the exhibitions below

For further information please contact:

Hannah Boulton – 020 7323 8522, hboulton@britishmuseum.org
Katrina Whenham – 020 7323 8583, kwhenham@britishmuseum.org
Katie McCrory – 020 7936 1282, kmccrory@brunswickgroup.com

Additional information on forthcoming temporary exhibitions:

Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler
24 September 2009 – 24 January 2010

The Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II who reigned from AD 1502-1521 was heir to a highly sophisticated civilisation based on fundamentally different technologies and beliefs from those developed in Europe.  This exhibition will tell the story of the first moment of European contact with the Aztec world in the early 16th Century, a time when Moctezuma commanded an immensely successful and aggressively expanding Aztec state. Moctezuma 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 himself continues to be re-assessed, especially in the light of on-going archaeological discoveries being made in Mexico City. The exhibition is supported by ArcelorMittal. Additional support has been given by the airline partner, Mexicana.

Revolution on Paper: Mexican Prints 1910–1960
22 October 2009 – 28 February 2010

This exhibition will focus 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. Supported by The Monument Trust and the Mexico Tourism Board.

Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa
4 March – 6 June 2010

From 12th-15th centuries Ife flourished as a powerful, cosmopolitan and wealthy city-state in West Africa (in what is now modern Nigeria), and as a major centre of the Yoruba-speaking people. Its influence was maintained over several centuries through its access to and control over extensive local and long-distance trade networks enabling it to prosper as an important economic, political, cultural and spiritual centre. Ife developed a refined and highly naturalistic sculptural tradition, many of these sculptures are thought to be associated with kingship but much about this ancient culture remains enigmatic. This will be the first exhibition outside Nigeria to focus on Ife culture and includes loans from Nigeria and Europe. The exhibition has been developed in collaboration with the Museum for African Art, New York in collaboration with Fundacion Marcelino Botin of Santander, Spain and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

The exhibition will serve as a platform for the launch of a season in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Year of African independences, 1960, when 17 countries (nearly a third of the continent including Nigeria) became independent nations.The season will b e developed in close collaboration with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) as a capacity building exercise. It will contribute to continuing development of  relationships and partnerships between the BM and our Nigerian museum colleages.

Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings
22 April – 25 July 2010

The exhibition will consist of 100 Italian Renaissance drawings from the period 1400–1510 selected from the British Museum and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, two of the world’s best collections in this field. It will chart the increasing importance of drawing in artistic practice in 15th-century Italy, with a particular emphasis on Leonardo, that laid the foundations of the High Renaissance style of Michelangelo and Raphael. It will demonstrate the importance of drawing to painters of the period, as it allowed them to experiment with a freedom not always reflected in their finished paintings. Artists featured include Fra Angelico, Jacopo and Gentile Bellini, Botticelli, Carpaccio, Leonardo, Filippo Lippi, Mantegna, Michelangelo and Verrocchio. The exhibition is supported by BP.