Ancient Greeks blockbuster comes to Australia after COVID delay

A major exhibition, Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes from the British Museum featuring iconic objects that have never toured the southern hemisphere, is coming to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra in December 2021, after COVID-19 delayed its arrival last year.

Logistical challenges in bringing international exhibitions to Australia due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, prompted the rescheduling of Ancient Greeks.

The highly anticipated exhibition will now come to the Australasian region in 2021, as part of a partnership between the British Museum, the National Museum of Australia, the Western Australian Museum, and the Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Featuring some 180 objects which explore the theme of competition through sports, politics, drama, music and warfare, Ancient Greeks will open at the Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip in June 2021, before moving to the National Museum in Canberra (17 December 2021 – 1 May 2022), as the show’s only east coast Australian venue. The exhibition will conclude its Australasian tour with a final stop in Auckland, New Zealand.

National Museum of Australia director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said he was delighted that the show, which celebrates sporting prowess in the ancient Olympic Games, will now bookend the rescheduled 2021 Olympics.

“We are thrilled that we can finally bring Ancient Greeks to east coast audiences after a 12-month delay. With COVID still among us and Australians looking for exciting experiences at home, this show really fits the bill,” Dr Trinca said.

“I know audiences will be mesmerised by the stories of competition in the ancient Greek world and by the beautiful depictions of athletes, the ceramics, sculptures, armour and jewellery featured in the show,” Dr Trinca said.

Dr Trinca thanked the British Museum and partner institutions and said the unique collaboration
is a model for future agreements, allowing cultural institutions to pool and leverage their resources, to bring world-class shows of this type to their audiences.

Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes is the fourth in a series of British Museum exhibitions that have featured at the National Museum of Australia, following Rome: City and Empire (2018), A History of the World in 100 Objects (2016) and Encounters: Revealing Stories
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum
 (2015).
Opening in Perth on 20 June, just before the start of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics (23 July 2021), the exhibition highlights the theme of competition and explores its role as a force for innovation and excellence.

Chief Executive Officer of the Western Australian Museum, Alec Coles, said, “The WA Museum Boola Bardip is delighted to host this exquisite exhibition as the first venue in the Australasian tour, and to celebrate another significant milestone in the important relationship between our four museums. The themes of ancient Greek culture shared in this exhibition, including sport, arts, politics and philosophy, are legacies that continue to permeate our everyday life. I have no doubt Western Australian audiences, and visitors to our state, will marvel at the artistry and beauty of the objects, and reflect on the profound influences of this period on our world today.” 

Auckland War Memorial Museum Chief Executive, Dr David Gaimster, said, “To enable the tour of one of the most significant exhibitions from the British Museum to Australasia, a strategic trans-Tasman partnership has been established with the Western Australian Museum in Perth and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. This new partnership will cement Australasia on the global cultural touring exhibition map.”

Dr Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum said, “This exhibition presents many masterpieces from the British Museum’s world-famous collection. The objects have enlightened our understanding of the ancient Greek world and have been brought together to tell a unique story for this exhibition. We are delighted to work alongside the National Museum of Australia, the Western Australian Museum and the Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum, to share these collections for the first time across Australasia.”

Dr Peter Higgs, exhibition curator said, “I am so pleased that Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes is going to our partner museums in Perth, Canberra and Auckland. Despite the worldwide pandemic and the immense challenges it has created, we have all worked together to achieve this momentous task. As with any loan from the British Museum, great care is taken to minimise any risk to the collection. It takes a great deal of planning and work by curators, conservators, object handlers and loans coordinators to ensure that the objects can be safely and securely transported and displayed. Following the pandemic, we’ve had to make some changes to installation practice, but we are confident all proper processes are in place. A huge thankyou to everyone who has been involved with this exhibition. We hope you are able to go and see the ‘Greeks’ and immerse yourselves in the stimulating narratives and stunning ancient artefacts.”  

Artistic, physical and intellectual competition pervaded ancient Greek society, which in turn influenced language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and the arts around the world.

Key objects in the show include iconic black and red figured ceramics featuring finely drawn depictions of athletes, gods and citizens; stunning marble statues and reliefs; bronze figurines; weapons and armour; toys and games; fine gold jewellery; and coins.

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