Last year when we visited Italy, it was a very art heavy vacation. Wanting to make sure the kids would still want to go away with us, this year I kept the art light. Having said that, there wasn’t a chance I was visiting London without going to the National Gallery. And what better way to travel around the world in 2 hours than by visiting the British Museum? For the National Gallery visit, we sent the kids back to the hotel in a cab and Keith and I met a guide from Context Travel who led us on a whirlwind 3 hour tour. [This is my third experience with Context Travel and each one has been well worth the hefty price tag.] For the British Museum, I sent the family on a scavenger hunt. Everyone needed to find one item from each continent (Antarctica could be skipped if needed) and no one had to take a tour. In the end, everyone was amazed by the Rosetta Stone, the Egyptian section and Elgin Marbles, without a word from me explaining their importance. Perfect. Here are my brief thoughts on the bookstores at each museum:
I found my favorite museum bookstore case: it’s about 4 feet high and wide, has three shelves and is full of art fiction. I’ve never seen a museum bookstore give this genre it’s own section. The shelves contained Byatt’s Matisse Stories, Zola’s The Masterpiece, Pamuk’s The Color Red, and Rembrandt’s Whore by Matton and Black. There were several books I hadn’t read and I’d forgotten all about Byatt’s book.
In general, this store is very similar to good museum stores in the US, not quite the Met Store, but then again, what is? There is a wide selection of art theory, art history, technique, museum studies books. The requisite large bookshelf dedicated to National Gallery publications. A great kid’s section which made me long for the days when my kids loved museum stores until it occurred to me how much money I save by not buying the puzzle that is twice the normal cost because it is a famous painting. We never did finish the Botticelli puzzle we bought last year, all that creamy skin got confusing.
Tucked away in small room is the British Museum Bookstore. It’s a space completely dedicated to and packed with books. I’m not an anthropologist, but I’m guessing this store is an anthropologist’s dream. The store is divided primarily by geography (Asia, India, Europe, Greece, Americas, Britain, Egypt) including all seven continents. Not surprisingly there is an emphasis on the Parthenon including a free handout concerning why the Elgin Marbles should stay there. The upshot is ‘a deal’s a deal’ and more people would see them here. In addition there are sections on history, natural history and catalogues for the current exhibitions.
If, hopefully when, I have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in the British Museum, I’ll use A History of the World in 100 Objects by the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, as a guide. A snippet of the description from the museum website:
This book takes a dramatically original approach to the history of humanity, using objects which previous civilisations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore past worlds and the lives of the men and women who lived in them. The book’s range is enormous. It begins with one of the earliest surviving objects made by human hands, a chopping tool from the Olduvai gorge in Africa, and ends with an object from the 21st century which represents the world we live in today.
In fact, why wait, I’ll add that book to my Christmas list.