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A Straight Line Walk Across London
by Paul K Lyons
55 - Nereus, Maussollos, Hoa Hakananai'a, Pharmacopoeia and an out-of-reach Tara
Not unsurprisingly, Gallery 18 is busy and buzzing. Next to it, also busy, is Gallery 17, which contains the Nereid Monument, 50 years younger than the Parthenon sculptures, dating from about 380 BC. Although reminiscent of the Greek style, this tomb is Lykian and comes from Xanthos in southwest Turkey. At one end of the gallery is the partly reconstructed tomb, and, at the other, some of the individual Nereids - daughters of the sea-god Nereus - with their wind-swept drapery. The upper walls of the Monument are surmounted with a pediment frieze showing banqueting scenes. The British Museum says this gallery is 'a particularly appropriate venue for seated dinners'. In fact, it is one of three or four galleries which the British Museum rents out for banquets. As one indication of how much this might cost, there is an additional charge of £1,000 if the booking is made for a weekend or with less than two weeks notice.
Next on my itinerary are Galleries 21 and 22. The former houses the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, a large tomb built for Maussollos, ruler of Caria. The Mausoleum was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and gave its name to all monumental tombs. The latter contains a bronze statuette, about half a metre tall, of a huntsman spearing a wild animal. It may be a representation of Alexander the Great, or, if not, one of his Macedonian successors.
I return to the Great Court, pass by the shops and seating areas, and enter Gallery 24. This is now the Wellcome Trust Gallery which aims to provide a fresh perspective on the British Museum's collections through long-term exhibitions focusing on life's challenges. 'Living and Dying' is the first such exhibition, and looks at how people around the world deal with the tough realities of life, averting or confronting trouble, sorrow, need and sickness.
There's too much emotion to take in here, so I only look at two exhibits. A huge basalt statue of Hoa Hakananai'a (thought to mean 'stolen or hidden friend') from Easter Island which is around 1,000 years old. He has elongated ears, protruding nipples and very thin arms with negligable hands. The back of the head shows a bird flanked by ceremonial paddles. An exhibit, called 'Cradle to Grave' by Pharmacopoeia (a collaboration of three artists - Susie Freeman, Liz Lee and David Critchley) is one year old and takes up much of the gallery. The piece incorporates an average lifetime supply of prescribed drugs knitted into two long lengths of fabric, and laid out flat, surrounded by family photographs and ephemera.
I would like to mention the voluptuously topless Tara, a bronze cast
of the Buddhist goddess found in Sri Lanka during the 8th century, but,
although roughly on the line of the 300 easting, she exhibits herself in
a higher plane (up one flight of stairs, in Gallery 33) and out of reach!
Exiting through the small hall at the back of the museum, I discover that
I've just emerged through the King Edward VII extension, which was opened
in 1914, and was planned as the first phase of a larger expansion that never
happened. Two stone lions and two long walls guard the back entrance of
the museum. Notices warn: 'Do not climb, deep drop behind wall.'
A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting
by Paul K Lyons
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