Is this "the modern mind"?
The British Museum is now showing an exhibition on Ice-Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind which displays sculptures and engravings from tens of thousands of years ago. A review in the Financial Times opens strikingly:
As you turn the corner in the British Museums Reading Room gallery, you find yourself face to face with a bison. Ambling towards you, her head drifting to one side, she hascome more than 2,500 kilometres, from Zaraysk in Russia and it has taken her more than 20,000 years to get here. Although she is only 10cm tall and made of mammoth ivory, she is so full of life that she short-circuits our day and hers, eight million days apart, into a single moment. We cant travel back to the Ice Age, but if we could, this is surely what it would feel like.
The review offers this explanation of the show's sub-title:
The shows curator, British Museum archaeologist Jill Cook, doesnt care to draw distinctions between prehistoric art and more recent works. For her, this is about the deep history of art, which affirms a fundamental human unity. We dont know what was going on in the minds of the people who made these images, but we can see instantly that their minds were modern, that as Cook puts it, This is not others, this is us.
But I found myself agreeing more with the review in the London Review of Books which insists on the incalculable distance that separates us from these artifacts, especially from the representations of the female figure:
I grew increasingly aware, going through the rooms at the British Museum, that all the concepts at my disposal to understand this world especially the speculative totality modern mind, which the exhibition seems to believe will reassure me dissolved as I looked.
The reviewer, T. J. Clark, said that he found himself lost: I seem to be back, for an instant, in a world where markers and stabilisers like man, woman and pregnancy are still to be invented.Thanks to Jean Raber, below, here's the link to the on-line page about the exhibit:http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/ice_age_art.aspx
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.