thinking about archaeology

Archive for March, 2015

Empty plinths

Parthenon galleries 1

The British Museum opens a much anticipated exhibition on the human body in ancient Greek art on March 26 – a day when much of the world will otherwise be occupied with a royal burial in Leicester Cathedral. I’ll be wriitng a bit about it in the next British Archaeology. Six of the pieces in the show come from the BM’s Parthenon collection. You can already get an idea of what they are by looking at the permanent gallery.

Parthenon galleries 2

Parthenon galleries 4That’s Dionysos on the east pediment :

Dionysos British Museum

British Museum

Parthenon galleries 5

Parthenon galleries 6

Here’s Ilissos, from the West pediment (the piece that went to Russia):

Parthenon galleries 3

Main M Pitts, inset British Museum

And just to remind us of the extraordinary beauty and observational power of the carving, here are a couple of panels from the south frieze:Parthenon galleries 7A heifer is led to be sacrificed.

Parthenon galleries 8Horses fly.

Elsewhere in the BM, this opened yesterday (until May 25), a room with trees. Aboriginal Australian artist Wukun Wanambi has re-imagined painted hollow log coffins as larrakitj memorial poles, painted with Yolngu clan fish.


They’re rather lovely, and reminded me of this – timbers from Seahenge in Lynn Museum, Norfolk:


Then back out in the London streets, my next appointment took me across Trafalgar Square to another empty plinth. This is the one where in 2009 I exhibited 10 pieces of stone to represent 700,000 years of British history (that’s all it was then… nearly a million now!). Which now, as then, was not actually empty. This is Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse, a skeletal representation of the beast with a rolling display of London stock prices, kind of fun and archaeological and also, again, rather beautiful (the exchange information shows up clearly in the half light). You can just make, out in lower right distance, George IV sitting on his horse on the matching plinth, no doubt wondering what happened to the days when you knew where you were.

Gift Horse

Gift Horse 2

Last chance to see Emily Carr in London

Tanoo (Royal BC Museum)

Emily Carr, Tanoo Queen Charlotte Islands 1913 (Royal BC Museum)

I’m looking at exhibitions to write about in the next edition of British Archaeology, and was reminded of the wonderful collection of Emily Carr works at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south-east London. It closes soon, on March 15. If you’re nearby and haven’t seen it, I really recommend it.

Here’s what I wrote for the current British Archaeology:

BriefingAs well as the paintings and drawings, there’s a very select group of indigenous Pacific coast artefacts from the likes of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the British Museum (though to be honest, the one little thing that bothered me about the show, was that there didn’t seem to be much of a connect between these objects and Emily Carr, which more could have been made of – but in the circumstances perhaps that’s being churlish).

I first saw some of her work when I was in British Columbia (for a time I had a house among the trees on Hornby Island). It struck me then as odd that she wasn’t better known in Britain, not least because she studied here.

Emily Carr, Untitled (seascape) 1935 (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)

Another Canadian artist who really should be better known here is Jack Shadbolt (1909–98). He was born in England, grew up in Victoria BC, and was a great fan of Carr. His wife Doris Shadbolt (née Meisel, 1918–2003) was director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and wrote about Emily Carr. Jack Shadbolt’s works draw on the same mix of indigenous art and culture as Carr’s, and Pacific coast landscape, but he expressed the local loss and the human tragedy more visibly and powerfully. Some of his stuff is really quite shocking, and beautiful at the same time. There’s even a touch about him of another artist I greatly admire, Ralph Steadman.

Shadbolt Coast Memory (1980s)

Jack Shadbolt, Coast Memory (1980s) (UBC Museum of Anthropology)

Killer Birds

Jack Shadbolt, Killer Birds (UBC Museum of Anthropology)

Dog Among the Ruins (cropped 1947)

Jack Shadbolt, Dog Among the Ruins (cropped 1947) (UBC Museum of Anthropology)

Coastal Image