Friday the 6th May saw the inaugural LateNights at the Ashmolean in which the museum opened its vaults to an exciting collaboration with London’s illustrious Notting Hill Arts Club. The public was treated to a late night viewing of the latest exhibition to adorn the Ashmolean until 10pm, at which point the museum was cleared and guests who had purchased tickets for the evening in the vaults were re-admitted .
The exhibition ‘Heracles to Alexander the Great’ is a collection of artefacts from the time of the so-called ‘descendants of Heracles’ recently discovered in the royal burial tombs and the palace at Aegae, the ancient capital of Macedon. They rewrite the history of early Greece and tell the story of the royal court and the kings and queens of Macedon. It was both superb and accessible to those for whom this was their first foray into the world of the museum, or indeed Classical history. Even pieces which did not immediately present themselves as significant were exhibited in such a manner that their impressiveness became obvious, such as the collection of nails from the Funeral Pyre of Queen Eurydice and the ornamentation of a sacrificial table. The stunning wreath of Queen Meda, famously played by a strangely Russian-sounding Angelina Jolie, was a particular highlight, as was the frieze of the Abduction of Persephone by Hades, cleverly imbedded in the wall and thus giving the illusion that it had been painted straight on.
Alexander’s journey through Asia was reflected in one’s journey through the exhibition, as each piece, some never-before-seen anywhere in the world, revealed more about the lives of Philip II and the ‘descendants’ of Heracles; it was only 30 years ago that excavation unearthed the true magnificence of the line. The quasi-private viewing was a great idea, and a fantastic and innovative way to start the whole evening.
However, it comes as no surprise that the Ashmolean managed to pull off a world-class exhibition of such importance so well. Like Alexander in Asia, the Museum forayed into terra incognita when it partnered up with NHAC and dipped its toe in the River Euphrates of late-night entertainment. As soon as the doors opened, the 300 guests were transported into something truly different and exotic.
The night was laced with intrigue born out of curiosity as to what such an exciting new concept may provide. Elements of the exhibition itself were projected as images on walls, pillars and roof almost like wallpaper, infusing the exhibition itself with the event. The very fabric of the room exuded the air of prestige commanded by the exhibition. Guests immediately flocked to the vault bar which had an impressive, if expensive range (a London night needn’t mean London prices) and the music kicked off half an hour in with bands and acts who were, to be frank, the last word in ‘cool.’ New-wave sounds from Trophy Wife were followed by beats which can only be described as ‘banging’ from noted London act I Blame Coco. Neither reviewers had heard either these acts before, but were by no means disappointed- all the acts, which included Kyla La Grange, MIM and Black Discs were new to us and made the event a refreshing and exciting change from the usual Friday night entertainment. The event was certainly not a nightclub, but it never proclaimed to be, and this only added to the delight- we feared that, should LateNights at the Ashmolean continue to stake such a solid claim on Friday night Oxford entertainment, this could be the final nail in the coffin for Kukui, and Wahoo should beware. In short, the night was of Herculean proportions; the intrepid fusion of classical with modern produced a truly sumptuous evening.
The Ashmolean seems to be an unsung treasure amongst the general student population of Oxford, and with events like LateNights endeavouring to disrupt this trend, one can only hope that the our peers will truly appreciate the Ashmolean for the wonder that it is.
Jack Roxburgh and Emily Callaghan-Sloane