Monday, March 25, 2013

Exhibition - British Museum

Art emerging like a foal fully formed into the world

Chauvet Cave Horses

Of our visit to the British Museum to see the Ice Age Art Exhibition and also to see the film by Werner Herzog - Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one needs to take a deep breathe before trying to give some impressions, albeit fleeting, of the whole experience.  Firstly, entering the great hall of the museum  the hustle and bustle of hundreds of tourists everywhere, we arrived on time and went round the exhibition.  The first thing to strike you is how small everything is, miniaturisation of the objects, held in the hand and carefully carved by the light of a campfire maybe.  This is carving done 30,000 years ago, the Lion Man from Germany is even older at 40,000 years  old.

The Lion Man
 Exquisitely engraved bone and ivory, some things you fall in love with, my favourite was a musk ox head, the size of a small skull, it stood alone in a corner, the great brow carved with an eloquence I find hard to put into words, a small sculpture that captured an animal that once roamed this earth. What else, there is a slight problem with the lighting, it is very dim, probably for the good reason that these old prehistoric objects should not be in full glare and the objects being so small.  I have culled from the Internet some photos of this and that, the following is difficult to see, but is seen as two deer swimming, it looks for a moment like a dragon but look closely and you can see the drawn up legs of the deer.

There are the 'venus' figures, portly figures with round pendulous breasts, large behinds, some see them as fertility goddesses, myself I prefer to think of them as 'teaching' dolls, perhaps the facts of life and the terrible ordeal of child birth to the young teenage females.

The 3D film was very good, something I had been looking forward to, the Chauvet Cave was discovered in the 1990s and has to be accessed by going down a deep hole, it is very large and the only thing that people can walk on is a narrow steel path laid from one end to another.
The floor is a treasure of prehistoric wonders, bones lie scattered, hyena, bear and wolves, footsteps are still to be found imprinted from thousands of years ago, a young boy's footsteps walks side by side with a wolf, were they together? or does 500 years separate them, will we ever know? Stalagmites meet stalactites in a creamy mutation of such beauty that the slow drip, drip of water reminds you that time passes in thousands of years forming our geological superstructure over millenia.
But it is the cave art that takes your breath away, the horses featured at the top, bottle brush manes, short thick necks, alive they move across the canvas of rock; maybe being driven to their deaths over the cliffs for food, who knows, but a rendition of realistic animals still conveying the sense of movement and life today.
Bears peer out from corners, in recesses and niches heavy bodied rhinos are found, along with lions, bison and deer.

The artwork can be dated from about 30,000 years ago, but dates are movable feasts and there is some questioning on accuracy.  Apparently if you read the wiki on the artwork, they say that the surface of the rock was cleaned and smoothed away before work commenced, you can see the shading that give such shape and form to the drawings.  The setting for the cave is glorious, steep white cliffs fall to one of those idyllic clear French rivers. Herzog starts the film with the straight lines of the vines that lie below the entrance to the cave, he also at the end takes you on a somewhat unexplained tour of a tourist centre a few miles away..... there is a nuclear plant somewhere here, and the warm waters from the cooling part of it has been used to create some sort of Eden type garden.  Here crocodiles breed and frisk, as only crocodiles can do, but the ones he focused on are  albinos, stark white with pale blue eyes that glare into the camera.  Not sure what he was saying but he seems to be contrasting these albinos with us humans, or is he talking about evolution, bit scary anyway around nuclear plants!

A short trailer, though I believe the whole film is online at Youtube

This is not the musk ox I fell in love with but another sculpture, they still exist apparently,
most of my photos come from Wikipedia Creative Commons, a resource I find invaluable.


  1. The cave art is amazing! Would love to see that someday.

  2. Cave art has always fascinated me, and the actual placings of the animals in the caves, and the SKILL - oh wow! Too much to hope Keith and I will make it to the exhibition, so thank you for sharing your experience with us. Magic.

  3. The cave art is amazingly accurate which makes it look very contemporary. Lovely post - thank you!

  4. Hi Everyone, The exhibition was good, coming back though on the tube..... sardines does not even do it justice, people just squeezed in tighter and tighter. Also note no photos of London itself, too flippin cold to get the camera out ;)