The British Museum have released their 2013 attendance figures as well as announcing the opening of its new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, at its central London location. The 135-million-pound ($230 million) building project, designed by Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners (RSHP). Lord Foster who also designed the Great Court roof in 2000, will open the centre this month.
In the last year the British Museum has seen successes in the temporary exhibition programme with nearly half a million visitors to the special exhibition Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Exhibitions on subjects as diverse as pre- Colombian gold and Japanese sex art also performed beyond expectation with around 90,000 visitors each. 2013/14 saw the opening of the new Sainsbury Exhibitions Centre which housed The BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend. The exhibition has just closed with 288, 351 visitors. The new purpose built space will allow us to stage ever more ambitious exhibitions. Vikings will be followed by ‘The BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China, opening in September. One of the most significant archaeological finds in the Museum’s collection was re-displayed to the public in a new gallery space.
The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300 -1100 opened in March 2014, with the Sutton Hoo hoard pride of place in a gallery which tells the story of a formative period in Europe’s history. Important new acquisitions included several outstanding groups of 20th century prints and drawings, including Picasso’s till Life under the Lamp and Jacqueline Reading acquired with the help of the Art Fund among many others. Count Christian Duerckheim generously gifted 34 prints and drawings by 20th century German artists including Georg Baselitz. An exhibition of the works has been seen by over 220k visitors so far. The Museum has consolidated its success in terms of research funding. Since 2002/3 external support for BM research has increased by more than 3000%.
Overseas, two exhibitions around the subject of the Hajj have evolved from the BM’s original show and presented to great acclaim in Leiden and Qatar. In Abu Dhabi the Museum has recently collaborated with TCA Abu Dhabi to present the first temporary exhibition around ‘A History of the World in 100 objects’. The exhibition is currently showing for 100 days in Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi. The Future This summer the largest development in the British Museum’s history will be complete and operational. The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (WCEC) houses new state-of-the-art conservation and science laboratories, new storage facilities, a loans hub and the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.
Over the course of June and July, staff will be moving into the Centre and beginning to realise the ambitions of this extraordinary addition to the Museum’s Bloomsbury site. Designed by Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners and built by Mace the project is fully funded and will be delivered on time by the end of July. Future exhibitions planned for the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery include The BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China opening on 18th September. The exhibition will feature extraordinary loans from China and will focus on this critical period of the Ming dynasty when many elements of the China we know today were created.
Following this show the Museum plans to host a major exhibition examining the Greek body in Spring 2015. The exhibition will include objects from the Museum’s own extensive collection of Greek and Roman sculpture alongside key loans. The ancient Greeks represented the human body in sculpture and other artistic media over a period of 2000 years. They invented the idea of the human body in art as an object of beauty and a bearer of meaning. The exhibition will be a new look at the Greek body in art and thought and its connections with other world cultures. This exhibition will be the first in a series to focus on important areas of the Museum’s famous collection with a view to guiding future thinking about the display of the permanent collection; the Museum’s real ‘blockbuster’. The Museum houses one of the most important collections of sculpture in the world, we want to improve the display and to allow a greater dialogue between the sculptures of different cultures. The Greek show will be followed in 2016 by a major temporary exhibition on Assyria. The British Museum has begun the next phase of future planning, in particular to look at how we can improve the buildings for the benefit of our visitors and extend and enhance engagement with the collection.
A newly refurbished gallery of early Egypt opens in July, followed by a series of gallery renovations, including the Waddesdon collection of Renassisance Art (due to open June 2015) and an enlargement of the permanent display of Islamic objects. A principle focus will be the ground-floor galleries which house the Museum’s collection of sculpture from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece which are in need of extensive refurbishment. This would be a long-term major programme of re-display to transform the visitor experience. The programme of temporary exhibitions will assist in the development of this thinking. Other exhibitions in the next 12 months include a look at the history of Germany in Germany: memories of a nation (opens October 2014). And a significant exhibition around the enduring culture of indigenous Australia which stretches back an astonishing 60,000 years (opens April 2015). 2013/14 in numbers Visitor figures The British Museum received over 6.8million visitors in 2013/2014, and is the most popular cultural attraction in the UK for the seventh year running. In addition over 2.4million people have had access to the Museum’s collections or programming across the UK through spotlight tours, touring exhibitions, partnership galleries, lectures and live cinema screenings. Temporary exhibitions The BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend was seen by 288,351 visitors, with an additional 29,000 seeing the exhibition on the big screen in ‘Vikings Live from the British Museum’, also supported by BP. Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, was seen by 471k people, with an additional 50,000 seeing the exhibition via the live screening event. Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art was seen by 87,893 visitors and Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia, sponsored by Julius Baer with additional support from American Airlines was seen by over 92k visitors.