British Museum showcases 'spectacular' Ice Age art

Feb 11, 2013

Exhibition of prehistoric art set alongside Matisse, Moore and Mondrian is full of wonder and mystery

What you need to know
A major new exhibition, Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind, has opened at the British Museum. The exhibition brings together art objects created during Europe's last Ice Age, between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, and presents them alongside works of modern art.

Curators argue that the works, including sculptures made from mammoth tusk and reindeer bone, were made by artists with modern minds like our own. One sculpture, a 23,000-year-old abstract figure from Lespugue, France, is said to have fascinated Picasso and influenced his 1930s sculptures.

Other objects are presented alongside modern works by Henry Moore, Mondrian and Matisse. Runs until 26 May.

What the critics like
The show is "full of wonders and mysteries", says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. It reveals the modern mind has always had the same curiosity about nature, gods and monsters. The ice-age animal portraits are something "not even Leonardo surpassed".

An exhibition of 30,000 years of prime human creativity "handily précised and framed" is a "mouthwatering prospect", says Waldemar Januszczak in the Sunday Times. Few exhibitions cover "this fascinating creative splurge", or offer a rare chance for a "face-to-face encounter with the Mona Lisa of the ice age" - the Willendorf Venus.

This show is "truly spectacular", says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. "The craftsmanship of many of these pieces is amazing". Their physical and psychological closeness strikes you – made millennia ago, "they feel hauntingly close".

What they don't like
There's a difference between bringing our knowledge of 20th-century art to this work, and projecting modern ideas about art onto the distant past as this show sometimes does, says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph.

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