one of my biggest gripes with the city in which i live is our woeful excuse for a museum. my issues are multifold: the collection on show is underwhelming and small, the curation is in popularist rather than informative style, and the space is awful (for example, they ran out of money during the construction of the children’s wing, and had to cut down on the size, thus rendering it just under the minimum height required for building the planned second story. hence they have one level of exhbition space instead of the planned two. it’s also designed to look like a rubix cube…but there are more than 6 colours involved. my inner geek – always ready for action – gets particualrly pissed over this last point. what kind of moron designs an educational building to look like an inaccurate maths puzzel?). not to mention the fact that entry was prohibitavly expensive last time i checked (to pay for the building’s construction, says my cynical side), which is, i think, pretty much the most problematic policy you can come up with over a so-called ‘public’ building.
natural history museum lobby, london, by darrell godliman.
none of this would distress me as much, of course, if i hadn’t grown up with the old museum. i understand that the space was smaller, not to mention that it did sort of take over the entire city library (thus rendering the books hard to house and even harder to access), and therefore finding some sort of new location was probably a good plan. but being forced to witness the ‘upgrade’ of something gorgeous into something less…that’s always pretty awful. plus the old museum was in that lovely victorian style. glass cases, the orignal victorian window-boxes fitted out with animals displayed in elaborate origin-appropriate sets, wooden floors, high ceilings…it felt like a museum ought to feel. mysterious, fascinating, and just spooky enough to give you a spinal shiver when you rounded a corner and came face to face with a partially-wrapped eqyptian mummy or diplodocus skelleton (something always leads me back to the dinosaur section - just the other day i was researching the megalodon – ie. possibly the most terrifying thing in the world: a giant, giant shark. it could eat jaws and still have space for that oil rig with which bhp is so busy messing up the gulf of mexico). i like that in a museum. it’s a sort of visual/tactile onomattopea; the space makes you feel like its content. history. bones. things so ancient it’s hard to wrap a tiny human life around them.
museum national d’histoire naturelle, paris, by richard ross.
the current exhibition at observatory, in new york, is a bit like that. it’s called the secret museum, and it deals with quiet back rooms, childish skelletons (you know how enamoured the victorians were with preserving foetuses), wax medical models, all sorts of wunderkama and magic, with an edge of mortality and the deeply macarbre. it’s run by a collection of intriguing individuals including joanna ebenstein, author of morbid anatomy, who is also the artist behind secret museum , “a photographic exhibition exploring the poetics of hidden, untouched and curious collections from around the world in photographs and artifacts.” i really wish it and observatory were in my part of the world. i would very much love to see this one (there’s even going to be some delightful sort of closing party over the weekend). as it is i must, not for the first time, make do with a fantastic flickr set; which is, i feel compelled to say, probably not (like so much that goes on in museums, when you think about it) for the squeamish.