British Museum and Rio Tinto announce Australian season

A series of exhibitions and events focusing on Australia, April – October 2011

The British Museum and Rio Tinto today, on Australia Day, announce plans for Australian season, a season dedicated to Australian culture featuring a broad programme of exhibitions, installations, performances, lectures and film screenings.

The season is supported by Rio Tinto and will include: Australia Landscape, a specially commissioned space presenting Australian biodiversity in the Museum's forecourt (in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew); Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas, an exhibition of modern Australian works that have never been on public display before, and Baskets and belonging: Indigenous Australian histories, a display of beautifully handcrafted baskets, woven from the Australian landscape.

Launching the season British Museum Director, Neil MacGregor commented: 'This is a very pertinent time to be examining Australian culture through the unifying topic of landscape. The Museum is very grateful to Rio Tinto for allowing us to host these three exhibitions and an extensive public programme highlighting the extraordinary diversity of Australia.'

Jan du Plessis, Chairman, Rio Tinto said: 'Rio Tinto is proud to sponsor the British Museum's Australian season, which is a celebration of Australian culture in the UK. We welcome the opportunity to help share the great cultural contribution of Indigenous Australians and the importance of biodiversity with the millions of people visiting the British Museum this year.

'As a company headquartered in the UK, but with many employees and operations in Australia, we have strong connections with both countries. The themes and motivation of Australian season resonate strongly for us.'

Banksia marginata

Banksia marginata. Photo: Andrew McRobb, Tasmania 2005.
© Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Australia Landscape: Kew at the British Museum

21 April – 16 October 2011
Admission free, British Museum forecourt

Australia Landscape is the fourth landscape in a five-year partnership programme involving the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which celebrate the shared vision of both institutions to strengthen cultural understanding and support biodiversity conservation across the world. The landscape will transit from the vegetation of Eastern Australia through the red centre (the arid desert covering the southern third of the Northern Territory and the North East corner of South Australia) culminating with a western Australian granite outcrop showcasing unique and highly threatened flora. Swathes of strongly coloured Brachyscome iberidifolia (Swan river daisies) and Rhodanthe (Everlastings) will add colour throughout the landscape. The interpretation will highlight approximately 12 'star' plants in the landscape and make connections between the habitat and the British Museum?s collection, as well as highlighting Kew?s work in Australia and links between the British Museum, Kew and global communities.

Professor Stephen Hopper, Director, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: 'Kew is pleased to be working with the British Museum on our fourth landscape project. 2011 will see a glimpse of the fragile, threatened and strikingly beautiful flora of Australia in the heart of London.'

Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas

26 May – 11 September 2011
Admission free, Room 90

Drawn from the British Museum?s recently formed collection of Australian works on paper, this exhibition will cover the period from 1940s to the present. It will begin with the distinctive school of Australian artists known as the „Angry Penguins? and follow the main developments in Australian graphic art, concluding with the rise of Aboriginal printmaking. This will be conveyed through outstanding examples of prints and drawings by all the major Australian artists of this period including Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Fred Williams, together with work by the foremost indigenous artists Rover Thomas, Dorothy Napangardi and Judy Watson among others. The exhibition will be the first major show of Australian art in London for at least a decade, and the largest and most ambitious devoted to Australian works on paper ever held outside of Australia itself.

Baskets and belonging: Indigenous Australian histories

26 May – 29 August 2011
Admission free, Room 91

In Australia people made and make a wide diversity of beautiful baskets, using materials from the landscape to which they belong. Indigenous Australians are not a single group, but rather many interconnecting groups, each belonging to different territory. At the time of European settlement they had been living on the continent for at least 60,000 years, and spoke more than 200 languages. This exhibition displays an important collection of historic baskets which reflect this diversity with elegant and sculptural forms, and painted decoration. The exhibition includes many important historic baskets, such as a small water carrier from Tasmania, skilfully constructed from a single piece of kelp. Kelp water carriers appear in early historic drawings, but this object, collected in the 1840s, is the only example now known. It is the basis of a contemporary revival among indigenous Tasmanians. The exhibition also includes contemporary baskets, drawing new materials into old traditions to make new kinds of object.

Public programme

Various locations

A rich and varied programme of events and activities, featuring public debates, lectures and talks by prominent Australian academics and artists, screenings of award-winning films as well as a wide range of family and educational activities will complement the exhibition.

Notes to Editors:

  • Catalogues will be published by British Museum Press to accompany Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas written by curator Stephen Coppel and Baskets and Belonging: Indigenous Australian histories written by curator Lissant Bolton.

  • Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. Rio Tinto's business is finding, mining, and processing mineral resources. Major products are aluminium, copper, diamonds, energy (coal and uranium), gold, industrial minerals (borax, titanium dioxide, salt, talc) and iron ore. Activities span the world but are strongly represented in Australia and North America with significant businesses in South America, Asia, Europe and southern Africa. Rio Tinto acknowledges that the conservation and responsible management of the environment and natural resources – such as land, water, biodiversity and air – are important business and societal issues. The Group's biodiversity strategy commits Rio Tinto to achieving the goal of a 'net positive impact' on biodiversity – ensuring that biodiversity ultimately benefits as a result of company's activities in a region. Rio Tinto is the largest private sector employer of Indigenous Australians, currently representing [8] per cent of the Group's Australian workforce.

  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species). The aim is to conserve 25% by 2020 and funds are being actively sought in order to continue this vital work. Support the work of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership by getting involved with the 'Adopt a Seed, Save a Species' campaign


Esme Wilson: or 020 7323 8394