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Luxury and Power at the British Museum reviews: what the critics say

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Luxury and Power is the title of the British Museum’s major new exhibition — and it’s the first big show they have opened in seven months.

The museum’s website promises visitors “dazzling objects” from the huge ancient empires the exhibition surveys: Persia and Greece. It says that the beauty featured in these Persian, Greek and Hellenistic luxuries ended up shaping the political landscape of Europe and Asia for millennia.

This clearly sets expectations high: it sounds like a grand exhibition full of awe and splendour.

But does it live up to this?

The art critics aren’t sure.

“[A] riveting display of ancient artefacts” writes Daisy Dunn in the Daily Telegraph, clearly showing that for her, it does meet expectations. She’s wowed by the “treasures that offer a glimpse into the Greek and Persian soul” and awards the exhibition four stars.

The Evening Standard’s Melanie McDonagh is even more impressed by the glittering gold and silver on display. It’s a “gorgeous exhibition” she says.

An object handler's gloved hands places an immaculate golden vessel onto a cushion for display
Installation of the Panagyurishte Treasure © The Trustees of the British Museum

She’s very impressed with the star loan to the show, the Panagyurishte Treasure, which features eight beautiful gold drinking vessels, featuring animal faces, goddess-heads, and centaurs. This haul of treasure was found in 1949 by three brothers digging in the ground in Bulgaria. “What a find it is” Melanie writes. “Our world looks too shabby to contain them.”

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The Times’ art critic is also won over by the beauty of the treasures themselves. But Laura Freeman is not impressed with the beauty — or lack of — in the exhibition’s design. “The naffest of exhibition set-dressings” she calls the curtains and cabinet liners objects are presented alongside. “Some of the cabinets might be windows on Hatton Garden.”

That's quite mild compared to Eddy Frankel at Time Out, who says he can't figure out why they decided to make it "look like an Essex swingers’ party."

The Guardian thinks it looks more “like a tackily overdone Greek restaurant, or maybe a shop selling repro antiques.”

Photograph of the display cases in the exhibition, with white fabric drapes in the background
Windows on Hatton Garden? The display inside Luxury and Power © The Trustees of the British Museum

But Jonathan Jones, isn’t particularly impressed with the objects either. The exhibition “centres on a history of cups” he writes, which “are not very moving to look at.” It’s perhaps no surprise his review only makes it to three-stars, with a label of “occasionally puzzling.”

With reviews mixed then, perhaps you will need to make your own mind up. You can do just that, as Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece is on at the British Museum in London, from 4 May to 13 August.


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