Blockbuster Ancient Greek exhibition coming to National Museum of Australia

Ian Bushnell 18 June 2021
Dr Peter Higgs with ancient Greek statue of woman

Curator Dr Peter Higgs examines a statue of a woman from about 150-100 BCE, before it is packed for transportation to Australia. Photo: British Museum.

Canberrans will be able to time travel to ancient Greece this December when a blockbuster exhibition of artefacts from the era opens at the National Museum of Australia (NMA).

Featuring 180 objects which explore the theme of competition through sports, politics, drama, music and warfare, the collection from the British Museum will be exhibited under the banner, ‘Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes’ in this Olympic year.

It will include 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.

These objects have never been seen in the Southern Hemisphere before, and will be on show at the NMA for more than four months.

The NMA says 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.

NMA director Dr Mathew Trinca said he is delighted that the show, which celebrates sporting prowess in the ancient Olympic Games, will now bookend the rescheduled 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, after a 12-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are thrilled we can finally bring ancient Greeks to east coast audiences after a 12-month delay,” he said. “With COVID-19 still among us and Australians looking for exciting experiences at home, this show really fits the bill.

“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.”

Ancient Greek amphora

Black-figured Panathenaic amphora, about 520 BCE. The Quadriga, a four-horse chariot race, was one of the most spectacular and dangerous events in Greek sporting competitions. Photo: British Museum.

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 ‘Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum’ (2015), ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ (2016), and ‘Rome: City and Empire’ (2018).

The British Museum’s exhibition curator, Dr Peter Higgs, said touring the show is a momentous task in the face of a worldwide pandemic and the immense challenges it has created.

“As with any loan from the British Museum, great care is taken to minimise any risk to the collection,” he said.

“It takes a great deal of planning and work by curators, conservators, object handlers and loans coordinators to ensure the objects can be safely and securely transported and displayed.

“Following the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to make some changes to installation practice, but we are confident all proper processes are in place.

“We hope you are able to go and see the ‘Greeks’ and immerse yourselves in the stimulating narratives and stunning ancient artefacts.”

The exhibition will first visit Perth at the WA Museum Boola Bardip in June, before moving to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra for its only east coast showing. It will then move on to Auckland, New Zealand.

‘Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes’ will be showing at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, from 17 December, 2021, to 1 May, 2022.


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