With summer fast approaching it's time to start planning your holiday outings. The British Museum is probably one of London's most popular destinations, Credit: Frances Spiegel 2011and during 2011 is offering a very good choice of exhibitions including Australian Season. The event, sponsored by the international mining group, Rio Tinto, comprises two exhibitions and a landscaped garden:
- Out of Australia: Prints and Drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas – An exhibition featuring prints, drawings and etchings brought together from the Museum's own collection.
- Baskets & Belonging: Indigenous Australian Histories – An exhibition showcasing the craft work of Indigenous Australians, including all manner of baskets, dishes, water carriers, baby slings and other types of container.
- Australian Landscape – An installation of Australian flowers, plants, and trees on the forecourt of the British Museum.
Out of Australia: Prints and Drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas
Out of Australia: Prints and Drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas features 125 etchings, drawings and prints by more than 50 artists. This is the first comprehensive exhibition of Indigenous Australian art to take place in London for many years and all items on display have been sourced from the British Museum's extensive collection by curator Stephen Coppel.
The Museum's holding of Indigenous Australian prints and drawings is a relatively new venture, having been developed over the last eight years following a large donation of works by printmaker; painter/draughtsman Fred Williams, presented by his widow in 2003. The collection also includes works by Rover Thomas, Gloria Petyarre and Kitty Kantilla together with items by contemporary artists including Peter S. Graham, Brent Harris and Ricky Swallow.
Out of Australia... is set out broadly chronologically. The exhibition starts by looking at the rise of the group known as ″the Angry Penguins″. This artistic movement included artists such as Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester, and the display showcases many of their experiments in expressionism and surrealism. The installation also explores the work of Australian artists working overseas, especially in London and Paris, during the 1950s and 60s.
Out of Australia... examines how printmaking developed in Australia, providing explanations of a number of different printmaking techniques ranging from lithography and monotype to intaglio printmaking and woodcuts.
The exhibition asks how the social and political issues of the 1980s and 90s are shown in the works of artists like Mike Parr, Ann Newmarch and the AIDS activist, David McDiarmid. The display concludes with a selection of prints by rising Indigenous Australian artists including Robert Cole, Kitty Kantilla, Dorothy Napangardi. Gloria Petyarre, Rover Thomas, Judy Watson and Pedro Wonaeamirri.
Out of Australia... Exhibition Catalogue
The British Museum Press has published a 256-page catalogue entitled: Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas. The book, written by Stephen Coppel, includes 200 colour illustrations. Priced at £25, Out of Australia... can be purchased from the British Museum shop: ISBN 978 0 7141 2672 2.
Baskets & Belonging: Indigenous Australian Histories
This exhibition relates the histories of 60 hand-crafted containers created by Indigenous Australians, some of which date back to Australia's first contact with Europeans. Baskets & Belonging... features traditional containers and contemporary items, and shows how modern materials are being utilised to produce new items in traditional ways. The exhibition tells us who made these articles? What materials did they use? Where did they find those materials? What were the objects used for, and finally, how do modern materials feature in the continuing production of traditional items? Lissant Bolton, curator of this exhibition (Section Head, Oceania Oceanic (Pacific and Australian) collections) has chosen all the items on display from the Museum's own collection.
Indigenous Australians have occupied Australia in excess of 50,000 years and there is no one single recognisable group. Many closely linked groups come from different areas and speak more than 200 languages. Baskets & Belonging... examines the origins and habits of various groups through the objects in the exhibition. Basket-making, weaving and fibre work form an important part of Aboriginal culture. Baskets were usually painted with family designs, or patterns linked to specific groups.
The installation explores the diversity of the Australian landscape with its rainforests, wetlands, deserts, mountains and coasts. How did people adapt to their surroundings? How did they use natural materials to make baskets, bags, dishes, water carriers? The objects they crafted were both functional and beautiful – works of art in their own right.
Baskets and belonging... Highlights of the Exhibition
Some of the objects are extremely rare, or even unique. The exhibition features a kelp water carrier made from a single piece of bull kelp (Durvillaea potatorum) with a twisted fibre handle. The item, discovered in Tasmania, contained personal items belonging to one man. Larger kelp baskets, of a similar design, were also used to carry babies.
The installation also showcases a dilly bag woven with pandanus fibre. The intricate striped pattern shows alternating rings of yellow, green, brown and black. The top edge is stitched with undyed fibres, which extend on one side to form a handle.
A distinctive bicornial basket of woven cane dates from the early 1900s and comes from the rainforests along the coast of north-eastern Australia. These crescent-shaped carriers might have been used by both men and women to carrt ceremonial and other items. The pattern is painted with naturally coloured clay or earth and shows the kinship or clan identity of the owner.
Baskets and belonging... Exhibition Catalogue
To accompany this exhibition the British Museum Press has published a 112-page catalogue entitled Baskets and Belonging: Indigenous Australian histories. The book has been written by the exhibition curator, Lissant Bolton, and includes 100 colour illustrations. Priced at £9.99, the publication can be purchased from The British Museum, ISBN: 9780714125992.
Australian Season also includes a landscaped garden located on the forecourt of the British Museum. Australia Landscape is a joint venture with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The landscape takes the visitor across the entire Australian continent in miniature, passing through the vegetation of Eastern Australia's coastal region, to the arid desert centre that covers one third of the Northern Territory, to the granite outcrops of Western Australia.
Many of the plants, such as Evergreen Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos Flavidus) have been specifically bred to withstand extreme dry spells. Some plants, such as the Kurrajong tree (Brachychiton populneus) have developed interesting ways of storing water over long periods of time. Some plants, like Wattle (Acadia dealbata) will survive bush fires, needing exposure to fire and smoke to stimulate its seeds for germination. Australian Season highlights the links between specific plants and many of the containers on show in Baskets & Belonging.
Out of Australia... and Baskets and Belonging... will be on show until 11th September 2011. Australia Landscape can be enjoyed until 16th October 2011. Further information about the landscape, exhibitions, catalogues, and related events is available from .
The British Museum