The British Museum is embarking on what could be the most far-ranging redisplay of its collection for more than 150 years. In his first in-depth interview since taking over as director in April 2016, Hartwig Fischer has revealed plans to reorganise and revitalise what could amount to half of the museum’s 95 galleries.
Neil MacGregor, Fischer’s predecessor, focused his efforts primarily on the museum’s 2014 extension with temporary exhibition galleries, conservation studios and underground storage, as well as shows and international links. Fischer, who was previously head of the Dresden State Art Collections, sees his main task as improving the presentation of the British Museum’s permanent collection.
Fischer is concerned that important collections, including those of Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, are split between two floors. Around half of the display space in the museum is devoted to these four civilisations. Fischer would like the ancient world to be concentrated on the main floor and later cultures on upper levels. He says that at present, “it is not easy to get a comprehensive understanding of them”. With Egypt, for example, “sculptures are on the ground floor, but mummies and smaller objects, which say a lot about faith, society and daily life, are on the first floor”.
A further problem is the lack of space for huge areas of the planet, particularly Oceania, Australia, South America and Africa. “We are lagging behind what we and our visitors would like to see,” Fischer says. He also wants a greater emphasis on prehistory (up to around 3000BC), where the museum has a strong collection, but little on show. Read more