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Manga and the Museum

The latest temporary exhibition to grace Room 3 is well worth a visit if you haven’t been already – entitled ‘Manga now: three generations’, it’s the perfect introduction to an art form that most of us have heard of, but few of us understand.

It’s only relatively recently that the significance of manga as an art form has been widely recognised by the West – many people falsely assumed that manga equated to cartoons and was aimed primarily at children and teenagers. However, in Japan, manga is enjoyed by audiences of all ages and covers a wide variety of genres and societal issues.

In fact, the exhibition’s first surprise comes when it reveals just how far back Manga’s origins lie – the term was first coined by Hokusai (of The Great Wave fame) and can be playfully translated as ‘pictures run riot’. The art form was developed in the early 20th century but is based on traditional Japanese artistic and literary genres that stretch much further back – the narrative handscrolls that were produced from AD 1100 and illustrated printed books from the 1700s onwards.

Although the British Museum has collected manga for over 60 years, it has only recently begun to acquire drawings and paintings by contemporary manga artists. This display has been designed to celebrate these recent acquisitions, and features the work of three leading contemporary artists. Nakamura Hikaru is currently the seventh bestselling manga artist in Japan and represents the most recent generation of manga artists. Chiba Tetsuya is a specialist of sports manga that relate a young person’s struggle for recognition through dedication to sport.

Manga

Works by the three artists - Nakamura Hikaru, Hoshino Yukinobu and Chiba Tetsuya

In between these two generations we have Hoshino Yyukinobu, one of Japan’s best-known science fiction manga artists who also specialises in mystery. One of his most popular works has been Case Records of Professor Munakata, and following visits to London in 2008 and 2009, he decided to create a number of episodes set in the British Museum. In these, crime-fighting anthropologist Munakata Tadakusu investigates a spate of thefts from the museum. The British Museum Press had the pleasure of publishing these in English as Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure in 2011, and you can see some of the illustrations in the gallery. In this compilation of ten episodes Professor Munakata embarks on a series of exciting adventures at the British Museum, featuring some of its most iconic objects – from the Rosetta Stone to the Lewis Chessmen.

Professor Munakata visiting the British Museum

We hope that you learn as much from the display as we did, and enjoy seeing one of our books in the limelight! If you’re feeling inspired you can pick up a copy of Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure from the gift shop on your way out, or online here if you can’t wait til then!

Professor Munakata

We’ve had a very exciting day over at the British Museum as our next major exhibition has been announced! From 24th September, Celts: art and identity will be exploring the truth behind our romanticised imaginings of the so-called Celts and discovering how this diverse group of people actually defined themselves.

Celts: art and identity

We at the British Museum Press have been working hard to produce a catalogue and giftbook that do justice to the beautiful objects on display, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you!

Over 250 remarkable objects have been selected from the collections of the British Museum, National Museums Scotland and other key European institutions to illustrate the narrative and highlight the artistic accomplishments of craftspeople through the centuries.

You’ll see everything from jewellery to feasting accoutrements, weaponry to illuminated manuscripts – much of it decorated in those distinctive swirling patterns that, upon closer inspection, transform into images of fantastical men and beasts.

Stone cross

Come and join us on a journey tracing what it means to be Celtic. The more you look, the more you’ll see…

Defining Beauty at the Hay Festival

After a long hiatus, the British Museum Press blog is back!

Our summer got off to an exciting start when Ian Jenkins, curator of the Greece and Rome Galleries and the blockbuster Defining Beauty exhibition, was invited to speak at the Hay Festival at the end of May.

Founded in 1987, the Hay Festival is now an international phenomenon, with spin-off festivals bringing writers and readers together on five continents throughout the year. The original, held in Hay-on-Wye, prides itself on its community spirit and rightly so – we were welcomed at Hereford station by a local volunteer who ferries authors around the festival every year. He was happy to share all his stories about the area, the history of the festival and, of course the celebrities who’ve shared his car!

Festival-goers relaxing

Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills and blue skies, the festival site looked like an idyllic village fȇte – snowy white tents interspersed with flowering plants and trees, and all bedecked with 16 miles (!) of bunting. There were bookshops selling both new and secondhand books, and plenty of deckchairs to relax and read them in. There was food for the body as well as the mind – special mention goes to the red London bus selling oysters and cocktails!

Ian was introduced by history author Jerry Brotton, and took an enthusiastic audience of around 100 people on a verbal tour of the current Defining Beauty exhibition. They were amused to learn that the exhibition opens with a view of the Queen’s bottom – because Her Majesty owns the crouching Venus sculpture that beckons viewers into the gallery.

Ian takes the stage

He explained that the first room showcases the work of the three greatest Athenian sculptors – Myron’s iconic Discobolus (or ‘Discus Thrower’), which is a study of opposites; Praxiteles’ Doryphoros (‘Spear-bearer’), whose beauty comes from its perfect mathematical proportions, and finally, Pheidias’ river god Ilissos, made famous earlier in the year by his trip to Russia, but remarkable here for being the only Greek original, and the only one whose realism seems intuitive and effortless.

Next came the revelation that far from being the polished white figures that we are familiar with today, many Greek statues would originally have been brightly painted or even gilded, sometimes with metal accessories or weapons attached. Even the bronze statues could be embellished with copper lips and glass eyes, as with the amazing statue only recently recovered from the depths of the Croatian sea – named the Apoxyomenos, or ‘The Scraper’, after the fact that he is scraping the oil, dust and sweat from his skin after a long workout.

The exhibition compares and contrasts Greek art with that from other world cultures to show just how unique the Greeks’ perspective on nudity was. Scenes from the Parthenon Frieze, where the nude figures are the city’s noble warriors, are paired with an Assyrian relief, where the naked figures are defeated enemies being humiliated and killed. However, whilst nudity was a heroic signifier for a man, we see that it was altogether more problematic in the case of women, who were thought to be wild and uncontrolled. This aligned them with mythical groups such as centaurs, satyrs and Amazons – all represented in the exhibition, and all seen as ‘other’ – their representations symbolising the darker side of human nature.

The audience had plenty of questions, and many stayed to have their books signed by Ian. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I’d recommend the Festival to anyone – I’m looking forward to Hay 2016 already!

‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’

A guest blog by John-Paul Stonard

Last week the great literary critic James Wood gave a lecture at the British Museum, titled ‘On Not Going Home’. He spoke about the condition of exile, of living one’s life away from home, and of the strange unreality of this experience.

His own compelling account is based on the experience of having lived for the last two decades in America (he was born and raised in Durham) – a sort of voluntary ‘homelessness’ that he is at pains to distinguish from the wrenching experience of exile. ‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’, he cites Edward Said, one of the great thinkers on the subject.

Wood’s brilliant lecture raised many questions that illuminate the works of art included in the book and exhibition Germany Divided: Baselitz and his Generation. The title might make you think of the Berlin Wall, and the political division that ended in 1989; but the sense of division is of something much deeper, much more personal and psychological.

All of the six artists included in the exhibition were born in eastern Germany, but sooner or later moved to make their lives in the West. Markus Lüpertz and Sigmar Polke were born in the eastern territories, lost to Germany in 1945, and were forced with their families west. Blinky Palermo moved with his foster family at the age of nine. Georg Baselitz transferred from East to West Berlin during his training (before the borders closed in 1961), just as Gerhard Richter completed his training as a Socialist Realist in Dresden, before moving to Düsseldorf and starting over again, working, as he (ironically) termed it, as a ‘Capitalist Realist’.

The most dramatic case was that of A.R. Penck, who crossed the East-West German border on foot in 1980, after years of working underground in opposition to the East German State. He had already made a career in the West, thanks to the dealer Michael Werner, who would smuggle his paintings out (by car), and showed them in his Cologne gallery. It seemed inevitable that one day Penck himself would follow.

The lives and works of all these artists were inflected in different ways by this experience of migration, and by the political division of Germany. I think of James Wood’s comment on his own experience of living in America, and the ‘light veil of alienation thrown over everything’. I wonder if this ‘veil of alienation’ might explain the way in which those such as Baselitz and Richter saw West Germany, somewhere apart from their ‘heimat’ – that untranslatable German word which suggests the intimate connection with the landscape in which one was born and raised.

For the philosopher and critic György Lúkacs (cited by Wood), the modern novel was an expression of the ‘transcendental homelessness’ of the modern age. Modern life was defined by the experience of exile, and the novel was the most direct expression of this experience. ‘Transcendental homelessness’ seems to float over the images created by Baselitz in his early series of drawings, prints and paintings of ‘heroes’, lonely figures walking through desolate landscapes. It is a feeling of restlessness that I also sense in the way Markus Lüpertz and A.R. Penck made drawings, producing vast quantities, as if constantly searching for something, some form of resolution. Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter’s early works are marked by a cool irony, and a feeling of keeping a distance from ‘art’ itself — Richter used photography, Polke an absurdist humour, as a way of avoiding ‘going home’ to older ideas of making art. And the myths that have gathered around the life and work of Blinky Palermo, whose name is itself a token of not-belonging (he was born Peter Stolle, and went through a number of change of surname, before alighting on the pseudonym as a student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie), make of him one of the most romantic, and elusive artists of all the ‘Baselitz generation’.

Listen to James Wood’s lecture via the London Review of Books website

Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation is on show at the British Museum until 31st August 2014.

Read more about this period of art and history by John-Paul Stonard in the beautifully illustrated catalogue which accompanies the exhibition.

Inspirations from China ~ Happy New Year

As we look ahead to a new year on the Chinese calendar, we look back at some of the wonderful Chinese art that inspired our recent book.

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

by Clarissa von Spee

An informative and elegantly illustrated introduction to Chinese ink paintings and calligraphies from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries


Modern Chinese ink paintings spreads_Page_1

The British Museum came to house one of the largest collections of classical and modern Chinese paintings in Europe. Many of these entered the collection in 1753 through Sir Hans Sloane who had acquired prints and paintings throughout his travels in many parts of the world.

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In 1903 the Museum acquired it’s most famous painting The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, an eighth-century copy of the earliest and finest painting attributed to Gu Kaizhi.
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Drawing on the British Museum’s rich collection, this book explores the development and diversity of Chinese ink painting in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States through the twentieth century to the present.

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1. The Admonitions Scroll
To celebrate the Chinese New Year Modern Chinese Ink Paintings will be on sale at an exclusive discount on The British Museum online shop. Find out more about the book here


Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation

By John-Paul Stonard

With the British Museum’s receipt of 34 works by 20thcentury German artists from Count Christian Duerckheim, we are publishing an exhibition catalogue written by John-Paul Stonard to accompany this significant collection of work.

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The book includes drawings and paintings by contemporary artists, such as Georg Baselitz, Blinky Palermo, Sigma Polke, that have never before been published. Starting with a fascinating introduction to the context of these works, Stonard delivers detailed biographical essays on each artist showing how the division of Germany into separate states affected their work.

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The free exhibition of Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation opens on February 6th and the exhibition catalogue is available to buy now

London Gay Pride 2013

Happy Gay Pride everyone!  For more information, visit http://www.londongaypride.co.uk/.

In the spirit of Gay Pride, we’ve included here a short extract from our new book, A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World by R.B. Parkinson (British Museum Press, paperback, £9.99).

A Little Gay History front cover - low-resPacific Embraces

“In the early eighteenth century, European explorers recorded sexual practices between males in the eastern Pacific region. European missionaries and colonial officials in the following centuries strongly discouraged such activities.

In many parts of the eastern Pacific or Polynesia, same-sex acts were tolerated only between a gender-crossing male and a socially accepted man. Polynesian languages have terms such as mahu (Tahiti) and fa’a fafine (Samoa) that define men who act and dress as women and who, as in many areas of South-East Asia, represent a third gender between man and woman. However, not all man on man sex involved such individuals: in Hawaii, aikane were young masculine men who had sex with the king. David Samwell (1751 – 98), a Welsh surgeon on Captain Cook’s ship the Discovery, noted in 1779 with some surprise that

It is an office that is esteemed honourable among them & they have frequently asked us on seeing a handsome young fellow if he was not an aikane to some of us.

Treasure Box

Above: This ‘treasure box’ was designed to be stored, not on the ground, but suspended. New Zealand, late eighteenth century. Wood and shell, H. 9.4 cm; L. 43 cm; D. 9.8 cm.

Below: Detail.

Treasure box close-up

This box from eighteenth-century New Zealand is made of wood and decorated with shell. It is a so-called ‘treasure box’ that would contain the powerful personal ornaments of a high-ranking Maori person, such as a chief. Every surface (including the underneath) of this prestigious box is covered with designs which show fourteen highly stylized figures, intertwined and linked in various types of sexual union, several showing an embrace between two males.”

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

New this week is the first-ever British Museum audio recording on the subject of A Little Gay History, featuring British Museum curators, Simon Russell Beale and Maggi Hambling discussing a number of objects in the British Museum collection. A free guide to objects from A Little Gay History on display is also available from the British Museum website.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World is available from all good bookshops and from the British Museum shop online.

Pompeii Live

Tonight is Pompeii Live, an exclusive new event from the British Museum. See the wonders of the exhibition from the comfort of your local cinema, introduced live by Peter Snow and Bettany Hughes, with Mary Beard, Rachel de Thame, Giorgio Locatelli, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, exhibition curator Paul Roberts and British Museum director Neil MacGregor.

For a full list of participating cinemas and for further information, visit the Pompeii Live webpage.

For a taster or what’s to come, we’ve included here a couple of spreads from our exhibition gift book, Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum by Paul Roberts with Vanessa Baldwin: a visual treasury of the art of these two cities. With page after page of exquisite details of frescoes, mosaics, marble reliefs, jewellery, statues, glass and silverware, these close-ups of masterpieces evoke the skilled hands and practiced eye of accomplished classical craftsmen.

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Left page: Fresco showing Theseus and the Minotaur. Pompeii, House of Gavius Rufus (VII,2,16). H. 97 cm, W. 88 cm. Naples, MANN 9043

Right page: Fresco showing Perseus and Andromeda. Pompeii, House of Dioscuri (VI, 9,6). H. 128 cm, W. 106 cm. Naples, MANN 8998

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Left page: Gold snake bracelets. Herculaneum, ancient shoreline, vault IX, skeleton 65. Diam. 9. 3 cm. Herculaneum, SAP 7835809.

Right page: Painted marble panel showing women playing knucklebones. Herculaneum, House of Neptune and Amphitrite (V,6-7). H. 42 cm, W. 49 cm. Naples, MANN 9562.

For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World

A Little Gay History 3D mock-up - high-res

How old is the oldest chat-up line between men? Who was the first ‘lesbian’? Were ancient Greek men who had sex together necessarily ‘gay’? And what did Shakespeare think about cross-dressing?

This week, we are excited to be publishing A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World by R.B. Parkinson. This exciting book draws on objects ranging from ancient Egyptian papyri and the erotic scenes on the Roman ‘Warren Cup’ to modern images by artists such as David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar to consider questions like these.

The concepts of human desire and gender have never been straightforward and have been shaped in many different ways, both throughout history and across the globe. This book takes over 40 artefacts from many cultures and from all periods to look at the intimate issues behind these objects and to ask a question that concerns us all: how easily can we recognize love in history?

Concise and beautifully illustrated with objects from the British Museum’s far-ranging collection , A Little Gay History provides an intriguing and valuable insight into the range, diversity  and complexity of same-sex desire.

Author R. B. Parkinson, a curator of ancient Egyptian culture at the British Museum, has chosen his three favourite objects from the book.

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 78), Avanzi del Tempio del Dio Canopo nella Villa Adriana in Tivoli. Rome, c. 1760 – 78. Etching on paper, 45.5 x 58.5 cm.

R.B.P.: This etching by Piranesi has great personal resonance: it shows the ruins of the emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli was one of the inspirations for Marguerite Yourcenar’s poetic novel, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), and a print of it hung over the fireplace in the house in Maine where Yourcenar lived with her translator and life-partner Grace Frick.  Whenever I travel, I take a copy of the novel with me.

R.B.P: One favourite object is the British Museum itself, which provided the setting for one of the greatest gay romantic moments in English literature: the scene in E. M. Forster’s novel Maurice, where the two heroes finally realise they are in love, superbly filmed by Merchant Ivory Productions in 1987.  Gay romance on a grand scale and with a happy ending.

You can view a clip from Maurice on the British Museum’s YouTube channel.

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R.B.P.: This badge from the 1980s by the wonderful cartoonist and illustrator Kate Charlesworth wittily caricatures stereotypes and assumptions about LGBT identity.

Images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World (£9.99) is published by the British Museum Press, and is available now in all good bookshops. For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum shop online.

The British Museum Press in Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013 Catalogue Cover

Our Autumn 2013 catalogue is now available!

Accompanying two major exhibitions in Autumn, we will be publishing Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia and Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art.  In August we will publish Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome by the award-winning author Carrie Vout, bringing new insights to Greek and Roman culture and erotic imagery, past and present. In October, we will publish 5000 Years of Tiles, showcasing the incredible range of tile arts and production techniques, and revealing a fascinating history of design, colour and decoration.

Beyond El Dorado cover - low-resShunga cover 2-5-13 low-resSex on Show cover low-resThe Greek Vase cover low-res5000 Years of Tiles cover - low-resMasterpieces - Early Medieval Art cover low-resRoman Empire cover -  low-resCurious Beasts front cover low-resHaiku Love cover - low-resPersian Love Poetry cover low-resThe Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia low-res

These are just a few highlights from our Autumn 2013 list. To view the full catalogue, visit the British Museum Press website.

Happy reading this Autumn!