Travelers to London this year will want to stop by the British Museum. Not only is it one of the top museums in the world, with huge collections from the Classical, Egyptian, Medieval, and pretty much every other period, it also hosts several temporary exhibitions every year. As a regular visitor to London I always make sure to see as many of these exhibitions as I can.
The first is Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam (January 26–April 13). This show examines the pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of all Muslims. It looks at the major pilgrimage routes and how they’ve changed over time, how the Hajj is practiced today, and the city of Mecca itself. Historic artifacts are displayed next to contemporary artwork.
The Arabian theme will continue with The Horse: Ancient Arabia to the modern world (May 24–September 30). Having ridden Arabian horses, I have to say they’re the noblest animals on the planet and I’ll be sure to make it to this show to learn something of their origins. More than that, the exhibition looks at the horse’s role in society and its influence on Middle Eastern and European history. Items from the museum collection as well as loaned items will be on display, including the four-horse chariot from the Oxus Treasure, 1st–2nd century AD representations of horses from the ancient caravan site of Qaryat al-Fau in Saudi Arabia, and hi-res panoramas of recently discovered rock drawings of horses.
Shakespeare: staging the world (July 19–November 25) is bound to attract many of the Olympic visitors. The exhibition will look at how London was becoming a major world city during Shakespeare’s time. The British Museum has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the exhibition’s design in order to accentuate the connections between the objects, Shakespeare’s writing, and performance.
One gallery I’ve always liked is the money gallery with its huge coin and paper currency collection. It’s often overlooked by visitors who only want to see mummies. Not surprising, considering how incredible the museum’s Egyptian galleries are. Now the gallery is being completely refurbished and reopening as the Citi Money Gallery in June 2012. It will look at the story of money from prehistory to the present. The museum says, “themes include the authority behind money, and the uses and abuses of it.” Sounds more relevant than mummies.
In addition to the major shows, several smaller exhibitions are planned. These include Angels and ducats: Shakespeare’s money and medals (April 19–October 28), Picasso prints: The Vollard Suite (May 3–September 2), Chinese ink painting and calligraphy (May 3–September 2), The Olympic trail (title to be confirmed, June 1-September 9), Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings made in Spain (September 2012 – January 2013).
The Asahi Shimbun Display, Room 3, just to the right as you come in through the main entrance, hosts exhibitions dedicated to a single object and its place in the culture that created it. From February 2-May 6 there will be a model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre made of olive wood and mother-of-pearl in 17th-century Bethlehem. It was originally a pilgrim’s souvenir. From June 7-September 9 you’ll have a chance to see a riff on the Discobolus, the famous Roman marble statue of a discus thrower, yet another nod to the London Olympics. Instead of the usual naked athlete, it’s Mao-suited Discobolus by the contemporary Chinese artist Sui Jianguo. Purists can see the real statue in the Great Court nearby.
So if you’re in London, make sure to pop by the British Museum. After that, take an evening stroll through surrounding Bloomsbury and admire the Georgian architecture. It’s one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city.