Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek Art: The British Museum

Regardless of arts funding cuts, £17.50 admission fee seems a lot for an exhibition. This is made all the more acute when you realise the exhibition is largely populated with pieces normally on display for free within the museums’ permanent collection; yet this is how much The British Museum are charging for their current blockbuster ‘Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art’. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but with promises to display everything “from the abstract simplicity of prehistoric figurines to breath-taking realism in the age of Alexander the Great” I was left sorely disappointed. The exhibition opens assuredly with five life-size or larger statues including the iconic discus-thrower by Myron (used as the lead image for this exhibition), however you quickly realise the majority are Roman copies or replicas rather than the Greek originals I was hoping to see. Despite poignant quotations on the walls from Socrates, Aristotle and Eurprides, the replica’s become even less convincing in the next room as the blindingly bright colours painted onto statues and gold-leaf Helen of Troy resemble a Christmas grotto rather than an exhibition celebrating classical sculpture. For me, the exhibition also lacked context throughout and failed to give visitors an understanding of the statues original meaning, use or placement. On a more positive note, some highlights include a 1st century BC Roman bronze baby with outstretched arms which is impressively realistic, the ‘Hermaphroditos’ which looks deceptively like a sleeping woman until you walk around it and see the male genitalia on the other side, and a two inch high bronze statue of Ajax driving a knife into his chest (depicted with an erect penis to convey the trauma of the moment)! Sadly however, these glimmers of hope are not enough to make up for how underwhelming the exhibition is as a whole.

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