Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Statuephilia @ the British Museum

I recently finished working at the British Museum, just before the Statuephilia exhibit was fully installed. Toward the end of last month I had a chance to go back as a visitor and check out the few installations that make up this exhibition.

It's an interesting thing for a museum like the BM to do, it's a bit 'thinking outside the box', with its integration of modern art and traditional collecting. There are five installations, each one in a different gallery. This in itself takes a step away from a traditional exhibiting space, the coherent whole and narrative that usually accompanies it. Instead, "five of Britain’s leading artists have contributed a sculpture responding to these world-famous collections," each a separate part of the museum - most often one that has inspired them in their work.

I like that the BM has taken on something like this (even with guest curators), because it speaks to the importance of museum collections outside the four walls of the institution. I suppose a lot of folk in the museum industry (specifically curatorial posts) most often think of collections within the bounds of their museum, and that context. The stories they can tell do have a broader cultural interest and content, but generally they are still bound by the institution itself. I think what Statuephilia does is show that museum collections do have more than just an immediate impact on a visiting public, and they demonstrate this very specifically by showing the work of sculptors who have been influenced not just by the BM as a whole, but the specifics of their collection.

I think Antony Gormley's quote sums this influence up simply: Seeing as a child the great head of Ramesses and the Assyrian winged bulls at the British Museum was what made me become a sculptor. Damien Hirst takes it a step further and examines the context and display of collections themselves: The gallery itself inspires me as a space with all those beautiful cabinets and cases complete with artefacts.

Statuephilia is a small and fairly simple idea, but it's got great impact - and it also spans the traditional museum and gallery worlds. If you're in London I definitely recommend seeing it, because it's definitely made me think about the broader scope of collections in society and the appeal that various museums can have on us all.

Below the jump are some photos of 4 out of 5 of the installations - unfortunately, Damien Hirst does not allow photography of his, but you can view it at the link above.

All images (with titles and info) on Flickr!

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