10 June 2022

The [marvellous] World of Stonehenge at The British Museum– until 17th July 2022 (and a tirade about the V&A's awful Fabergé show)

I am a bit late behind here – I went to see this marvellous British Museum exhibition back in March and I really thought I'd posted about it, especially as I enjoyed it so much, in many different ways.

First of all, this is not an exhibition about Stonehenge itself, nor is it aboout the other Europens sites mentioned in the blurbs. It's actually about the many beautiful items that were being created at the same time the stones were erected. I must admit that I had glossed over that myself when I bought the tickets (I don't like to be laden with preconceptions) and I am so glad I did that, because the surprise at seeing so any intricately-created pieces really did impress me. I had lots of conversations with other attendees there and we were all in a sense of awe. The gold pieces, in particular, were a revelation to me.

Despite being aware that other ancient civilzations, such as in Egypt, were capable of such fine work, I had never before really considered that the same was happening here. This meant that after seeing the show I went to look at other relevant exhibits in the main museum, specificlly intrigued by the gold torques (collared necklaces).

One display at this the show is a collection of carved spheres, each the size of a cricket ball and all different. An accompanying info panel tells us that it has not been ascertained as to what these were created for, or why. They all have intertwined geometric patterns, circular motifs or textured grids on them.

A man at my side was also intrigued by these orbs and we tried to come up with some ideas of our own. I queried why there needed to have a purpose at all and perhaps they were merely decorative. Consider in the future, what will people think of the pointless items of today such as figurines, ornaments, snow domes, nodding dogs, even Rubik cubes and acrylic fingernails? Perhaps these stone balls were simply something to make whilst chatting with the family after dinner or around the fire in the evening, or the crafters were simply honing their skills or testing out new designs and patterns for use on other larger projects. Could they even be the equivalent of a sample set, like a 3D swatch book? Or were they apprentice pieces like those made more recently in the cabinet making and tailoring trades?

We also liked the cases and cabinets that hold the exhibits here – everything is beautifully and clearly displayed within cleverly-constructed thick basic chip board, painted in colours that evoke stone, slate, wood etc, with all the edges rounded and smooth. 

There's lots more to see than gold and balls... do go and check it oout... five weeks left. Tickets here

From the sublimely simple and effective to the ill-achived mess that was the Fabergé exhibition at the V&A – dreadful and disappointing, on so many levels. 

This exhibition ended in May. First of all, you couldn't take photos. Well, that's OK but how can you see the teensy weensy workmanship? I often take a snap of small things at museums simply to be able to zoom in for a better view. And, surely, it's the detail in Fabergé pieces that's the most impressive thing?  This might have been assuaged had the pieces not been within cases that only alowed one or two people to view at a time (and here we are in a world of socal distancing!) and only one view possible, from the front. A few carefully positioned mirrors within those cabinets would have been helpful, to say the least. And they could have pasted large format macro shots of the jewelley on the walls or around the cabinets. Or at least supplied magnifying glasses as I have seen available at other museums and galleries. 

The design of the show looked cheap, as if each room had been given to a different first year interior design student as a project. On entering the show there were three big free-standing alcoves, the outer two with nothing in them at all, looking as if they were there for selfie opportinities. Oh, but, no; there was no photography allowed. The first exhibit next to the alcoves was an intricate Fabergé piece but with scant explanation and this threw up lots of questions but we couldn't find the answers, even when we realised that the introduction about the man himself was on a wall behind us, such that it is not visible as you enter. Then a queue to view tiny things in those aformentioned cabinets along a wall. This took ages and I gave up half way hoping that things would improve. Nope. 

Other rooms referred to places and people we had not been introduced to before and I kept going back to previous rooms to find info I might have missed only to return empty. We kept asking 'who?' 'what?' or 'where?' such as a big pic of a shop in part of a short movie that we later sussed by accident was Bond Street. To watch this movie involved standing where people were constantly walking past hindering the view, yet there were clear empty spaces in that room that could have been better adapted.

Only one room had an attempt at graphics on the walls, in the form of white lines on a green backround evoking diamonds, yet this was only in the corner of that room. And with no apparent specific relevanceto the pieces within those cabinets. Another room was shoddily 'decorated' with what looked like recycled props from a wedding or corporate event in the form of fake plants and trellis work. We could not understand twhat a garden had to do with it at all. Oh, and half way through the exhib, two parts of the building are linked by a utilitarian connecting tunnel/room that was painted black. Black like a cave. Talk about ugly. Surely something could have been done with this to make it feel part of the show?

The occasional info panels (A3 sheets pasted on the walls) also look to also have been designed by a novice. I have never seen such ugly misplaced typefaces. I managed to take a couple of cheeky photos even tho on the third attempt I was sternly told 'no photos' even tho I expained that I was snapping the info panels for typo reference, not the jewellery. What a jobsworth! As you can see here, one headline typeface is used here and there but not consistently (other signage had random horizontal rules above or below). Some wacky designer has created a font wherby all elements are the opposite of how they are in cuts of say Times Roman etc. Thicks replace thins and it makes for something that's really hard to read. Oh how radical. But why use it here? Also, a similar serif font is used for headings elsewhere, sometimes all caps, sometime U/lc, as per on the Acknowledgements boards near the exit. These two headline fonts are married with a horribly clunky sans serif for the body text that has clearly been designed for screen use. Bleargh! None of the typefaces used bear any relevance to, or enhance or complement the elegance of the high-end Fabergé brand. 

And then to the last room where Fabergé eggs were displayed in free-standing tall cabinets. Hurrah it was possiblt to walk around all four sides but still not possible to see anything up close and, as with the earlier rooms there was lots of whate space above and below ther glass where large format close-up images could have been installed. Little info panels told us about things inside the eggs that were not visible being as the item was closed. Aaargh. A simple bit of photographic reference would have helped.  The room was horrible, very high, and a strange makeshift-looking dropped ceiling had been installed making it feel like we were in someone's bad barn conversion. And finally, we were amazed to discover there was no shopping experience on exit. We had hoped to flick through some books, admire some Fabergé-inspired jewellery and perhaps buy something relevant like an egg-shaped fridge magnet (that's something I have invented right now). But no... into another dark corridor and out into the museum proper.  

If you missed the show, you didn't miss much at all. The pics and info on the V&A website here are much more informative

There's probably mistakes in this Fabergé rant. I wrote it as a stream of consciousness and I am not going back to edit/check it... If the V&A and Fabergé don't care about the details, then why should I?!!

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Thanks, Jane