First off I popped into the Ashmolean to catch the Xu Bing exhibition before it closed. I had glimpsed the banners and mistakenly thought it was on traditional Chinese landscapes. The exhibition actually charted contemporary artist Xu Bing’s negotiation of socialist realism, pop art, French impressionist landscape painting, community art projects and calligraphy. His landscripts took centre stage. These are landscapes which use Chinese characters as marks to depict features in the landscape e.g. the character for rock to depict a rock. Maybe I’m weird but the early sketches made during the Cultural Revolution were my favourites. If you missed it there is a lot of highly quality online content still available via Eastern Art Online.
Then it was off to the Oxford Museum of History of Science. They only have a small temporary exhibition space which they always use to great effect. Their ‘Natural Histories’ exhibition used items from the currently closed Oxford Natural History Museum. It explored the use of these collections for scientific research. The items which stuck with me were initially unassuming preparations signed by Darwin and Linnaeus. The display of the taxidermy really captured the romance of these collections and seems to have inspired the Blackwell art shop next door in their window displays.
Quick lunch in the Ashmolean and then what I thought was going to be the boring part of the day: hitting the books. Turns out reading is a lot more fun when you can pretend to be one of the X-men as you move from historic building to secret underground facility. The Gladstone annexe is in an old book tunnel between the Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera. I don’t think it’s open to the public but here is a sneak peek.
Rounded off the day listening to the wonderful Jon Whiteley talk about the history of the Ashmolean for Museums at Night. The event also celebrated the launch of the new book about the history of the museum ‘Dodos and Dark Lanterns’ (Berry 2013). I had a train to catch so I only caught glimpses of what was on offer: live music, historic costume, lantern making with families. I then ran to the Pitt Rivers Museum to see it in darkness (again for for Museums at Night). The sight of the shrunken heads by torch light was particularly uncanny. It was worth the run and I only wish I could have stayed longer.