Bring­ing the Bronze Age up to date

Colchester’s First­site gives a fresh look

Essex Life - - INSIDE -

When we pe­ruse a mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion, we use a va­ri­ety of sources to eval­u­ate the ex­hibits. We’ll usu­ally start by look­ing at the item, we may be al­lowed to touch it, we’ll prob­a­bly read a lit­tle about it, may even watch a short video show­ing how it was found or used, and in some cases will be treated to an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence to in­crease our en­gage­ment.

BRONZE AGE c. 3500 BC–AD 2018 gives vis­i­tors the chance to learn more about this fas­ci­nat­ing pe­riod of his­tory while also prompt­ing them to think about the power of mu­se­ums and the way peo­ple have pre­sump­tions and some­times ill-in­formed opin­ions when they view ex­hi­bi­tions.

BRONZE AGE recre­ates a fic­tional Bronze Age pre­sen­ta­tion from a for­got­ten mu­seum. An it­er­a­tion of Hauser & Wirth’s satir­i­cal muse­o­log­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion at Frieze Lon­don 2017, the show has been cu­rated specif­i­cally for Colchester – the ear­li­est recorded Ro­man town in Great Bri­tain. Con­ceived and orig­i­nated by Dr Neil Wen­man in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mary Beard, Pro­fes­sor of Clas­sics at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, the ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses solely on works made of bronze or from the Bronze Age pe­riod. These in­clude arte­facts on loan from re­gional mu­se­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tions na­tion­wide, sculp­tures by artists in­clud­ing mod­ern masters Louise Bour­geois, Al­berto Gi­a­cometti, Henry Moore and Fausto Melotti, along with Phyl­l­ida Bar­low’s bronze cast paint sticks, Su­bodh Gupta’s bronze Mona Lisa, a cast bronze fist by Martin Creed and Mark Wallinger’s spec­ta­cles.

Par­o­dy­ing the cu­ra­to­rial choices of his­tor­i­cal mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions, the arte­facts and art­works are sep­a­rated into six themes: Do­mes­tic Life, Dec­o­ra­tion & Adorn­ment, Fer­til­ity & the Body, Reli­gion & Burial, Trade & Agri­cul­ture and War & Bat­tle. Con­tem­po­rary works of art and his­tor­i­cal arte­facts are mis­chie­vously mixed with mis­cel­la­neous bronze items pur­chased from eBay. Mas­querad­ing as ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds, these in­vite vis­i­tors

to pon­der how the sig­nif­i­cance of an ob­ject can be dic­tated by con­text. Mov­ing away from the tra­di­tional white walls of an art gallery, the pre­sen­ta­tion chal­lenges ex­pec­ta­tions and high­lights the power of dis­play.

In­sti­tu­tions that have loaned works and ob­jects to BRONZE AGE in­clude Bruton Mu­seum, Som­er­set; Shrews­bury Mu­seum & Art Gallery, Shrews­bury, and David Roberts Art Col­lec­tion, Lon­don. At First­site, ob­jects have been in­cor­po­rated from the ‘des­ig­nated sta­tus’ col­lec­tion of the Colchester and Ip­swich Mu­se­ums. A unique ad­di­tion to the pre­sen­ta­tion at First­site will be the Ber­ry­field Mo­saic (cAD 150), which is lo­cated at the en­trance of the ex­hi­bi­tion. This mo­saic mas­ter­piece was dis­cov­ered in Colchester in 1923 where First­site is now lo­cated and is per­ma­nently in­stalled within the gallery floor.

An au­dio guide voiced by Pro­fes­sor Mary Beard, avail­able on iTunes, en­hances the vis­i­tor’s ‘mu­seum’ ex­pe­ri­ence and sug­gests the de­cod­ing of the ob­jects on view. Pro­fes­sor Beard says: ‘I thought the play­act­ing, whim­si­cal na­ture of the project sounded like a bit of fun and while we’ve ap­proached the pre­sen­ta­tion as a satire, it’s also a way to rein­vig­o­rate how peo­ple think about his­tory, ar­chae­ol­ogy and mu­seum dis­play. It’s partly about the way we look. Who knows how and where in­spi­ra­tion strikes? I’m very keen on keep­ing alive our con­nec­tion to the past and our con­ver­sa­tion with it, and this project en­cap­su­lates that in a very ac­ces­si­ble way.’

First­site di­rec­tor Sally Shaw adds fur­ther: ‘BRONZE AGE is a very im­por­tant show for First­site in that it shows mas­ter­works from the con­tem­po­rary and mod­ern art canons along­side an­cient an­tiq­ui­ties. While it was ini­tially con­ceived as a satire on mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions, it has grown into some­thing much more than that, invit­ing the viewer to ap­proach his­tory and ar­chae­ol­ogy from a fresh per­spec­tive. Orig­i­nally con­ceived by Hauser & Wirth, we have been de­lighted to add ex­hibits from Colchester and Ip­swich Mu­se­ums. And bring­ing the project to Colchester – the UK’s old­est recorded town, the seat of the Ro­man oc­cu­pa­tion of Bri­tain and home to one of the most rad­i­cal con­tem­po­rary art galleries – is a per­fect con­tin­u­a­tion of this story.’

Find out more

BRONZE AGE c. 3500 BC–AD 2018 is open from 10am to 5pm un­til Oc­to­ber 28. The ex­hi­bi­tion has been gen­er­ously sup­ported by Hauser & Wirth, AB Fine Art Foundry, the Coode-Adams First­site Trust, First­site Col­lec­tors’ Group, the Fin­nis Scott Foun­da­tion and the Her­vey Ben­ham Char­i­ta­ble Trust. Visit www.first­site.uk/whats-on/bronze-age

Im­ages cour­tesy of Hauser & Wirth with pho­tog­ra­phy by Damian Grif­fiths

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