2nd of July 2016 £16.50
Joined by Sinead Flament
Whatever The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones writes, I believe the opposite. He praised the BM’s previous Celtic exhibition, I thought it was rubbish; he thinks Blake is the greatest ever British painter, I think he should’ve stuck to the poetry; he thinks we should introduce entrance fees to every museum, I think he’s an idiot. So, it was with great optimism that I attended his two-star reviewed Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum.
At £16.50, this show is at the upper limit of what I’m prepared to pay for a single exhibition. When you’re forking out that kind of wedge, an eight out of ten experience is a disappointment. However, it was refreshing to see something at the British Museum they hadn’t nicked, so that’s nice.
We’re greeted with a short video that set the scene well. Although it did err a little towards the self-aggrandising message of “it’d still be covered in sea if it wasn’t for us cool dudes”.
I really digged the atmosphere of the place. Soft blue and green lights coupled with a soundtrack so ambient it made Brian Eno sound like heavy gabba. It set the scene perfectly without ever being intrusive.
The collection itself was broad and deep, opening a window into the lives, beliefs, rituals, and governance of the place. We were greeted with a five metre statue of a pharaoh in incredible nick to say it’s been underwater longer than the country I was standing in had existed. If I stay in the bath five minutes too long, my skin falls to pieces.
One gripe I had with the presentation was the backlit text boxes that felt like what the future would look like in the 1980s but, that aside, I was impressed.
The text itself was detailed and informative although occasionally suffered from jarring tonal shifts: “take a look and see what’s inside”. Oh, you’re talking to me? I thought a toddler with learning difficulties was stood behind me.
It focuses on three key aspects of Greco-Egyptian life: the everyday, the religious, and the political. All three, I thought, delivered with grace. This was achieved because they didn’t shy away from telling stories. I know relatively little about Egyptian culture (in comparison to Greek and Roman), and the British Museum wasn’t afraid to explain the basics. I never felt patronised and was keen to learn more about their customs like the Mystery of Osiris. It never lagged, it didn’t outstay it’s welcome. I read every single letter and only at the end did I realise that I’d spent over two hours there… and had chronic back ache… and had pissed myself. Bravo British Museum, we’ll mummify you when you’re dead.
Why do we go to museums? To learn, and enjoy one’s time learning. What makes a museum great? To be transported; and it was this that the British Museum achieved with brio. I’d recommend this to everyone except boring Guardian critics.