Statuephila. But where was the arousal?

If this is the “really tacky display” that Jonathan Jones warned us of in his Guardian art blog, then at least it's really well heated in here.

Statuephilia, the British Museum's current exhibition, consists of sculptures by five contemporary artists placed amongst the permanent collection. Each work is situated in a different gallery, and their settings have been cleverly thought out as each modern sculpture has which relate to, and are supposedly inspired by their ancient surroundings.

The first of the Statuephilia collection, placed in the entrance of the museum, is a sized down version of Antony Gormley's Angel of the North. When I walked into the museum I saw a man, arms stretched out in imitation whilst his ten year old daughter took a photo; Oh wow! I thought, I would love to see that photo! The statue is supposed to provide a clear link with the Egyptian, Assyrian and Classical statues in the museum's collection. However, with its isolation and lack of blurb to accompany it, it was almost impossible to know this. But at least people are getting a decent photo opportunity out of it, perhaps this, and not education, is at the top of the British Museum’s agenda during the crisis.

After struggling to find out exactly where it was placed, the next piece I went to see was Marc Quinn's Siren, a solid gold statue of supermodel Kate Moss. To understand the relevance of this sculpture you should know that the Statuephilia exhibition is based on the idea of agalmatophilia, where one feels desire and arousal towards an artificially created human form. This sculpture is by far the most publicised piece in the exhibition, with Kate Moss being given the ridiculous title of “Aphrodite of our times” in an attempt to justify her presence within the honourable British Museum. Quinn's piece is the largest gold statue since Ancient Egypt, and is placed, fittingly, amongst statues of beautiful, iconic women from Ancient Greece. Again a lack of blurb meant that anyone _______(Siren by Marc Quinn) _______ who hadn't read up on the exhibition would have no idea that the sculpture was made from solid gold. As I took my time forming my opinion on Quinn's piece, the man next to me declared 'I don't like sculpture.' Ok, I thought, so why are you here? Clearly agalmatophilia or Kate Moss doesn’t affect him in the way it’s meant to.

But after circling the Great Hall until I was dizzy in an attempt to find Damien Hirst's contribution, I began to agree with this insightful fellow. I may not excel at orienteering but it seemed as if someone had hidden the rest of the exhibition from me; was everyone else finding it this difficult? I eventually found Cornucopia, and realised I had walked into the room a few times before and just not seen it. Placed in a floor to ceiling book case was row upon row of paint-splattered skulls (200 to be exact). At first glance, they were hard to distinguish from the books in the cases around them. This was definitely my favourite piece in the exhibition. The dizziness had worn off now. I continued my self guided tour.

Next I went to see Ron Mueck's Mask II, which admittedly freaked me out. The sleeping self portrait was well placed, amongst Easter Island heads, but that was really the extent of my enjoyment of it. The piece was far too realistic for my liking and I felt as if I was having one of those distressing dreams where you wake up sweating believing your hand is now giant-sized or that your foot could fit in to a match box. But maybe that was intentional. As well as this, no one was talking about it so the only thing I have written in my notebook is 'I really don't like this - it's just weird'.

______________________(Mask II by Ron Mueck)

I ended my visit on Noble and Webster's silhouette piece. And alas! My eves dropping work finally paid off! Their sculpture is craftily assembled from dead rodents which were apparently teased and tortured by their feral farmyard cat. The work casts a shadow of the two artists’ faces, and is inspired by the mummified creatures of the ancient Egyptian world. But who cares? Because this piece won, hands down, the prize for best onlookers comment: 'I think that this is awesome,' said a young male punter, 'I think that this is proper art; fuck that white room and lights going on and off shit.' I didn't even bother to form my own opinion on the piece, I thought this would suffice.
(Dark Stuff by Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Top)

So that was that, my extremely confusing but well heated experience at the British Museum was over. And so back out I went, into the cold, but without that tingly agalmatophilic feeling I so wanted to experience.

AG For 3E News and research by SA

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