Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation

Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation

The BP exhibition

23 April - 2 August 2015
Room 35
£10, Members/under 16s free

Discover the remarkable story of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures in this major exhibition.

The show will be the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, and will celebrate the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This culture has continued for over 60,000 years in diverse environments which range from lush rainforest and arid landscapes to inland rivers, islands, seas and urban areas today. Hundreds of different Indigenous groups live across this vast continent, each with their own defined areas, languages and traditions.

Indigenous Australians developed sustainable ways of living from the land and sea using objects of great beauty and efficiency. From the deadly precision of a boomerang to bags and baskets for carrying water and food – essential for survival – these objects require supreme skill to design and make. In the exhibition, examples of practical objects such as spear-throwers (the ‘Swiss Army knife of the desert’) will sit alongside magnificent works of art, such as Uta Uta Tjangala’s Yumari (1981) – a masterpiece now featured on the Australian passport. The oldest continuing art tradition in the world, Aboriginal art tells stories of the great ancestral beings who created the land and the people, and gave the law and lessons for living which still continue today.

In contrast, the objects from the Torres Strait Islands reflect the centrality of the sea and its creatures to the Islanders’ beliefs and way of life, including spectacular turtle-shell masks used in ceremonies before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Together, the objects in the exhibition will give an overview of Indigenous Australian culture throughout the continent, both remote and urban.

The exhibition features objects drawn from the British Museum’s unparalleled collection. Many of them were collected in the early colonial period (1770–1850), and have never been on public display before. There will also be important loans from Australian museums and specially commissioned artworks. Many Indigenous Australians have generously contributed to the exhibition, providing information, advice and permissions.

These objects represent the cultural continuity and resilience of these cultures since a British colony was established in Australia in 1788. The exhibition will allow you to explore the complex relationships Indigenous Australians have with the natural world and how they have responded to changing historical circumstances. It is a remarkable story of how an ancient civilisation has endured and whose story is still unfolding today.

Supported by BP.  


Celts: art and identity

Celts: art and identity

24 September 2015 - 31 January 2016
Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery
£16.50, Members/under 16s free

This is the first major exhibition to examine the full history of Celtic art and identity, and is organised in partnership with National Museums Scotland. It is a story that unfolds over 2,500 years and across Britain and Europe – from the Atlantic coast to the Black Sea. Beginning with the first recorded mention of ‘Celts’ and ending with an exploration of Celtic expression today, uncover the wider picture of how this identity has been reinvented and revived over the centuries – as fluid as a Celtic motif. 


Drawing in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns

Drawing in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns

10 September - 6 December 2015
Room 90
£8.00, Members/under 16s free
Organised with the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Explore the development of the artistic technique of metalpoint from the Renaissance to the present, and discover how the technical challenge of the medium has inspired generations of artists.

This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see around 100 exceptional drawings created using the exquisite metalpoint technique. It features works by some of the greatest artists working from the 15th century to the present including Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Elder, Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, Otto Dix, Jasper Johns and Bruce Nauman. Works drawn from the British Museum’s superb collection of metalpoint drawings sit alongside major loans from European and American museums as well as private collections, including four sheets by Leonardo da Vinci from the Royal Collection.

Metalpoint is a drawing technique where the artist uses a metal stylus, usually made of silver, on an abrasive preparation so that traces of the metal are left on the surface, resulting in a visible drawing. The fine point allows for precise lines so that stunningly detailed drawings can be achieved. Metalpoint lines cannot be easily erased and the artist needs to carefully plan the design or run the risk of having to start all over again. In the hands of the greatest artists metalpoint could also be used more freely for creating rapid sketches.

The exhibition is the first to explore the development of metalpoint through five centuries and showcases the great variety of artistic styles it has encompassed. During the Renaissance metalpoint became popular both north and south of the Alps before cheaper graphite replaced it from around 1550. In northern Europe metalpoint continued to be used in preparation for prints or in travel sketchbooks. From the late 17th century the technique was virtually forgotten until the 19th century when the admiration for Renaissance art sparked its renewed use. The exploration of the medium continues to this day, both in Europe and the USA.

Such a glittering array of metalpoint drawings by the greatest masters of this technique has never been assembled before, and this exhibition presents a unique opportunity to view such a large collection of masterpieces using this intriguing technique.