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British Museum - forthcoming exhibitions

RB Kitaj, Yaller Bird, 1964, Screenprint.

Exhibition preview

THE British Museum has announced details of its forthcoming exhibitions:

Recent acquisitions: Archimboldo to Kitaj – May 30 to September 1, 2013 (Room 90).

The extraordinarily generous gift of 293 prints and 18 drawings presented to the British Museum by the American artist R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007) offers a timely opportunity to reassess this artist’s graphic output, being the first exhibition of his prints in London for almost twenty years. A selection of around 50 prints and some of the drawings will be shown alongside other new acquisitions.

Kitaj was one of the major artists of the twentieth century, and had always wanted his prints to reside alongside the Old Masters in the British Museum. As Kitaj’s last assistant, Tracy Bartley, has stated:

‘The British Museum held a very special place in Kitaj’s heart. As the repository of the national collection of prints and drawings the gift coming to the Museum was an easy decision. He certainly knew he would be in good company’. Although Kitaj tragically committed suicide in 2007, the artist’s estate honoured his wishes making the Museum’s holdings of the artist’s works on paper the most comprehensive in the UK.

Kitaj’s gift contains the major suites of prints from the 1960s and 1970s, including the magisterial In Our Time series. These screenprints of enlarged reproductions of book covers from Kitaj’s personal library are probably his most accessible works of this period.

The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda – May 30 to September 1, 2013 (Room 91).

From the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), rulers have used propaganda to promote their authority, build support for wars and strengthen control over their states. The term itself was first used by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation in the 17th century, in the context of ‘propagating’ the faith.

During World War I, the Allied governments used censorship to cover the bad news from the battlefield, largely to keep up recruitment numbers. From this time, ‘propaganda’ became associated with lies and manipulation.

In many Asian countries, propaganda does not have such sinister connotations. The forthcoming exhibition, The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda takes the more neutral position that the goal of propaganda – and propaganda art – is to create involvement. Propaganda can help to build nations and defy enemies, as well as construct identities and educate the masses. In short, not all propaganda is bad.

The British Museum has extraordinarily rich collections of twentieth-century propaganda art, much of which has never been displayed before. This exhibition will present a wide range of propaganda formats and styles from the beginning of the 20th century, including cartoons, prints and posters.

The Art of Influence will also highlight recently acquired propaganda materials from the Asia-Pacific War.

Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art – October 3, 2013 to January 5, 2014 (Rooms 90 and 91).

In early modern Japan, 1600-1900, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (Shunga).

Frequently tender, funny and beautiful, Shunga were mostly done within the popular school known as ‘pictures of the floating world’ (ukiyo-e), by celebrated artists such as Utamaro and Hokusai.

Shunga is in some ways a unique phenomenon in pre-modern world culture, in terms of the quantity, the quality and the nature of the art that was produced. This exhibition aims to answer some key questions about what is Shunga and why was it produced. In particular, it will explore the social and cultural contexts for sex art in Japan.

During the twentieth century, Shunga was all but removed from popular and scholarly memory and became taboo. The ambition with this exhibition is to illuminate the importance of Shunga in Japanese art history.

Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia – October 17, 2013 to March 23, 2014 (Room 35).

Gold was used to fashion some of the most visually dramatic and technically sophisticated works of art found anywhere in the Americas before European contact. This exhibition will feature up to 250 spectacular masterworks borrowed from the renowned Gold Museum in Bogota, Colombia, as well as objects drawn from the British Museum’s own collection.

The exhibition will examine the ritual that lies behind the myth of El Dorado and its later reinterpretations, including the legendary ‘Lost City of Gold’ that fascinated European explorers for over two centuries. A selection of gold objects will be displayed, representing the diverse cultures of more than thirty chiefdoms that populated the northern Andean landscape before the arrival of the Europeans.

Many outstanding objects are reserved to accompany the dead on their journey into the spirit world. The exhibition will show how gold marked the threshold between the living and the dead and explain why it had so much symbolic significance.

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum is on display at the British museum until September 29, 2013.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

Website: www.britishmuseum.org/