@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Guest Review: @BritishMuseum Nero: the man behind the myth by Matt White @soupdragon2000

    May 29th, 2021mardixonCulture

    Hair today, gone tomorrow.
    Nero: the man behind the myth The British Museum’s first exhibition in its mahoosive Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery since emerging from lockdown is an exhibition that seek to answer one question. Does Nero deserve his reputation for cruelty and excess?

    Wall text: Nero is one of the most infamous Roman emperors. Does he deserve his reputation for cruelty and excess?
    Before you even get into the exhibition, you are greeted with a bust of Nero that gives you an idea of what is to come. It’s a bust of Nero but only a bit of it by his right eye is original – the rest has been made later on to resemble some kind of cross between a bond villain and a badly taxidermied Gordon Brown. It seems both in his life and after, peers and academics have been on a mission to trash-talk him out of history. The exhibition takes every aspect of the Nero we know of today and bit by bit, section by section tears down this – as the exhibition declares – ‘myth’.

    Bust of Nero

    It’s all very convincing and we start with a statue of Nero as a young boy which seems to beg the question “how could you be so cruel about this innocent young chap?”. There’s a giant purple velvet curtain behind him which simultaneously makes him look important and insignificant.

    Statue of Nero as a young boy

    The argument is comprehensive across nine different sections but doesn’t stray far from its central question. There were mentions of different aspects of Roman life that I’d love to have learnt more about. For instance, there was a terrifying display of the chains from a chain gang used for slaves. I wanted to find out more about what life was like for these people but the exhibition doesn’t try to offer this. Perhaps that’s the right thing to do though – no exhibition can be big enough to cover everything. The exhibition sticks to its guns and follows its story without deviation. No side quests here. With one exception. Nero’s hair. Throughout the exhibition, there were constant mentions of Nero’s hairstyle and how everyone wanted to copy it. If you’re thinking of getting a ‘Nero’ to replace your lockdown mullet haircut then maybe this is the exhibition for you.

    Ankle chains from a chain gang
    Exhibition panel describing Nero’s dashing yet refined hairstyle

    The exhibition to me felt quite academic which I know the museum’s first returning audiences will love. Design-wise, it is very grand in a subdued kind of way. The section on ‘spectacle and splendour’ didn’t feel very spectacular or splendid to me but whether that would have been appropriate given there are human remains on display is another matter.
    The section on the great fire of Rome also felt underplayed given Nero’s ‘fiddling while Rome burrned’ is what many of us know him for. I’ve seen amazing displays on the fire of London so maybe my expectations were too high but if the idea was to downplay the relationship between Nero and fire, it did its job well.

    Wall caption: Nero dies aged 30. One writer said that the powerful were pleased, the people were sad and the army had mixed feelings. How do you feel?
    The exhibition was also peppered with various provocations on the wall which ask your thoughts on various aspects of the exhibition. Some were curiously worded, asking me how I ‘feel’ about Nero’s death but they did serve to lighten what was a quite heavy exhibition.
    All in all, it is a show of great heft and authority, done very well in a way that only somewhere such as the British Museum can. It’s definitely one for the intellectual senators and knights rather than provincials such as I but what it does, it does very well. I had an enjoyable visit which was only helped by the centurion rubber ducks in the gift shop.
    Nero: The man behind the myth runs at the British Museum from 27 May 24 October 2021. Tickets from £20.

    Wall caption: Nero dies aged 30. One writer said that the powerful were pleased, the people were sad and the army had mixed feelings. How do you feel?

    Large, open space in the exhibition. Perfect for social distancing.

    To book tickets for Nero the man behind the myth, see British Museum’s website. Exhibition / 27 May 2021 – 24 Oct 2021

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