Enduring objects, contested meanings: Civilisations launches on BBC2 14/3/2018

The Civilisations television series has begun on BBC2, featuring star objects from museums across the UK as well as filming across the world. It is accompanied by a museums festival considering many of the topics raised by the programmes, particularly the plurality of ‘civilisations’ and how multiple perspectives have overtaken the world view of Clarke’s 1960s series. The BBC’s arts commissioning editor Mark Bell said “what we wanted to show was that these cultural artefacts are, some of them, very long lived, but also quite fragile, and also quite contested—what they mean to different people is slippery and that’s interesting.”

Two of the three presenters, Simon Schama and Mary Beard launched the festival with an event at The National Gallery (still available on BBC Arts). They discussed their differing views of what Civilisation is, and to what extent ‘the barbarian is within’. They also explored hard questions about how world collections came to the UK and the claims of restitution. Mary Beard said: “Do we want to live in a world where every object stays where it was made. No. Do we want to live in a world where art is looted from those who own it – we also feel that that is not desirable. And that is one of the reasons why these are such deeply contested objects. Art in its long history is about power…There are wonderful, difficult and complicated stories which you can’t just airbrush out by saying let’s just send it back.” Critical reactions to the series have been generally positive with the Telegraph describing the filming as ‘as jaw-dropping as anything on Blue Planet II’. Telegraph, Guardian, TES, The Art Newspaper, BBC (all programmes), National Gallery (link to launch event stream)