Those of you who drop in frequently to mu blog know how much I love the BritishMuseum. When I heard about the Viking Exhibition I have to say I want greatly excited. The Items on display are amazing however the experience of the management of the new exhibit space some what marred the experience
I pre brought my ticket online using my art fund card to get a discount. It clearly states collect ticket on day on the print out. I was also charged an admin fee. It turns out that the print out was all that was required and I did not get a ticket. So where did my admin fee go?
The entrance to the new exhibition space is below the member’s room next to the African rooms. The staff took ages to look over the email confirmation, I was on time but I queued for 45 minutes to get in. they were running late the queue moves slowly. The problem is the audio guide station due to; too few staff and far too chatty staff. Also a lot of European visitors were queuing for audio guides and when they got to the counter were told they were only available in English. This needs to be made clearer so that these poor people don’t need to queue additionally.
So when I finally got in at 2.45 (ticket was for admission at 2pm. They wont let you queue to get in on time and I was told the queue was aprox 10 minutes!) I did not want to queue any longer in the frustratingly slowly snake of people around the exhibition. This queue seemed to be stationary in the entrance as people looked at the first item which was 1 on the audio guide. The audio for this item is several minutes long. This meant the entrance to the exhibition was beyond slow. When I finally got in to the exhibition space wanted to move around and not necessarily see things in order. I broke away from the slow snake and moved around to see things. The items in the first part of the exhibition were not displayed well to be able to do this, it was frustrating.
A note on the exhibits, they are however stunning I found the big buckles and brooches absolutely amazing. The skill and craftsmanship is not comparable to anything today. I always associated the Vikings with silver so it was amazing to see gold items.
Raiding was hand in hand with trade as a way of life for the Vikings. The scope of the trade is mind boggling in a time when walking, riding or sailing boats were the only modes of transport. Arabic coins and a stunning collection of Amber are just some of the evidence to show how widely travelled they were. Slavery was also an acceptable part of trade and the manacles used could easily have been from the African Slave trade. It is a chilling reminder of what life could be like.
Domestic Items were so familiar, a mead or ale casket, a metal decoration off a drinking horn a wooden platter for food not unlike what was used to served me sandwiches at lunch time, were fantastic and so amazing as they were wooden artefacts. Horses were clearly important as transport in the Viking world and the Stirrups Spurs and bridle bits were ornate and very similar to modern pieces
After the part with horses you enter into an amazing space that holds one of the stars of the exhibition, the remaining wooden parts of the biggest Viking ship found (ironically found under the Viking museum in Denmark) The metal frame that supports the remaining wood is fabulous. The first thing that hit me was how shallow it was. When you think that Vikings made it as far as they did these ships were shallow and offered little shelter from bad weather. The men and women who under took such journeys were amazing.
The array of weaponry shows how well that they were armed the Vikings were on their voyages. The weapons were not just practical and deadly they were often beautifully decorated and the skill in the metal work is remarkable. The helmets (minus the horns) were so humanising and I found the chainmail beautiful and so sophisticated.
There was a replica of a stone engraved and highly painted depicting Harold the Blue. I found the Iconography very similar to that of the Greek Orthodox Church. Later in the exhibition there is a Viking Crucifix and again the striking similarities to the orthodox art was for me very striking.
The Iconic Celtic knotted carving was visible in the jewellery and the stone work through out the exhibition and reminded me that something that is seen as so Irish was probably introduced by these ancient Scandinavians.
The star of the exhibition for me, were the Lewis Chessmen. These figures have haunted me for years, I own a pair of earrings of the King and somewhat grumpy Queen that I love, but I have never seen them in the flesh. They were bigger than I thought they would be and every bit as enchanting.
I should point out that the audio guide presented by sandy Tosvik was great. The experts hit the right tone; the images of the items were not on screen as long I would have liked especially as the cases were very busy. I also had faulty headphones this irritated me and the youth I gave them back to clearly wasn’t bothered when I told him.
For those of you who like a good gift shop, I can confirm that it is very good and has a wide selection of offerings at every budget. (I may go back to get a couple of bits if I am in town again soon)
The Items on show were stunning and certainly brought this period of history alive however the lack of seating, the poor management at the beginning getting into the exhibition, the slow service at the audio station, dodgy earphones with said audio guide, all somewhat dampened the experience. I hope that these teething problems to this fantastic new space are ironed out soon and I look forward to seeing how the space will be used in the future.