Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Museum Rant 

Like James Delingpole, winner of the Charles Douglas-Home Memorial Trust Award, I am more than a little concerned at the turn our museums are taking in their quest to dumb down the museum experience to appeal to the uninterested, uneducated, immature visitor.

Now don't get me wrong - I believe museums should be accessible to everyone, preferably at no cost, that their collections and exhibits should have a mission of educating and enthusing visitors and people of all sorts should swarm to them in droves. That being said, I think museums should make all of us rise above ourselves, not sink to a dumbed down level of curatorial presentation.

One of my favorite museums of course is the Victoria & Albert in London. Many of their programs have improved their mission, but others IMHO have failed miserably. In the textile galleries there used to be quite a timeline of textiles exhibiting the development of design and techniques. It was well labeled and certainly easily understood by novices or someone who simply wandered into the gallery with no previous knowledge of textiles - BUT not so infantile that it insulted a viewer at the upper range of understanding of the concepts presented. GONE,GONERS, UP IN SMOKE MY DEARS - replaced by a mish mash of temporary stuff that seems to have no real purpose.

The Medieval Treasury is now being reinterpreted and installed a la British Galleries. Welcome to the Disneyland of galleries folks. The entertainment value is spoonfed to folks instead of asking them to look, think, study, go away and read, come back and look again.

The Design Gallery is GONE, POOF, TRASH. It was such a wonderful resource to show to students when asking them to think, look and learn values, techniques,cultural and social uses of design through the ages.

Please, leave a few galleries in the world where I can simply take in the objects myself and form my own opinions. One of my favorite activities is to visit the Devonshire Tapestries (crammed full of lovely medieval people) and make up conversations for the people crammed into their panoramas. Go along and try to understand how it would have been to wear those costumes, use those ritual objects, eat from that china, pose for that painting. Please go to a museum with a friend, a child, a lover and view their collections with your imagination as well as your eyes and ears.

And, if you love museums, take time to read this provocative essay.

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