Tag Archives: museums

On the Museum of London’s new galleries

What does it say about the new exhibition space at the Museum of London that all the Museum’s own publicity — even the branding on their own website, e.g. here — refers to these as ‘the new £20 million Galleries of Modern London’, the ‘£20 million’ price tag conjoined with the galleries’ name as firmly as the constituent parts of some Homeric trope?

Not much, perhaps. Yet it’s worth going on to read the other claims the brief online synopsis makes for the Museum’s redesigned lower floor rooms:

Three years in the making, five new galleries tell the story of London and its people from 1666 to the present day. 7,000 objects, show-stopping interactives, specially designed family areas, film and changing displays transport you through the capital’s tumultuous history, rich with drama, triumph and near disaster.

As is so often the case with history, it’s the rhetorical colour that lingers long after what detail there is has begun to fade away — in particular, that familiar emphasis on novelty, abundance and spectacle.

Combine this with the launch of the Museum’s own iPhone app, Streetmuseum — and for those interested in the relationship between the launch of Streetmuseum and the opening of the new galleries, there’s a fascinating interview with the Museum of London’s marketing manager here — and the nature of the ‘repositioning’ underway here could hardly be more obvious. Out with the merely didactic displays, the rows of carefully-labelled items, silent and thoughtful contemplation of history’s wreckage, the dark romance of extreme street-by-street specificity and hard-won local knowledge — in with diversion, distraction, sensory skimming over the surface of a past at once highly generalised yet also fragmented into incoherence, projections both metaphorical and literal, noise, restlessness half-attention always in search of something marginally more interesting — in a word, ‘entertainment’, which is what the new exhibition space seems to be all about.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Galleries of Modern London have already proved an enormous success.

Continue reading

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under history, London, reviews

Blasting & Blessing: a rainy day edition

cats considering the nature of rain

It’s rained a lot in London over the past few days. Surely, though, that’s no bad thing?

For while it would be wrong to underestimate the greater and lesser inconveniences of rain — flooding, the hazards posed by deceptive reflections or slippery pavements, cabin fever on the part of those who, for whatever reason, won’t go out when it’s wet — there’s a lot to be said for the miscellaneous pleasures of swimming in an outdoor pool when it’s raining, going out for the sort of walk where it doesn’t matter at all how soaked one gets, or indeed, as far as that goes, staying in, and enjoying civilisation’s greatest perk — the primal satisfaction of observing gale-force winds and driving torrents from the safety of a warm, dry, comfortable, sociable shelter. Bless buildings.

Some man-made structures deserve more blessing than others, though, which brings us to the subject of Crossrail. In a word, blast Crossrail. For those of you fortunate enough to live in ignorance of this eye-wateringly expensive, entirely pointless enterprise — proof positive, as if we needed any more of it, that Britain is no good at all at les très grandes projets — Crossrail is a scheme involving digging up much of central London over a period of half a decade, demolishing historic buildings and causing unendurable levels of disruption to local residents and workers, in order to connect by rail a number of locations already connected by public transport. Yes, quite. Continue reading

14 Comments

Filed under art, blasting & blessing, books, culture, London, media, Tory things, Venice

Let our Titians go — they don’t need “saving”

Titian, 'Diana and Actaeon', 1556-9, National Galleries of Scotland, Bridgewater Collection Loan 1945. Photo © The National Galleries of Scotland.

Titian, 'Diana and Actaeon', 1556-9, National Galleries of Scotland, Bridgewater Collection Loan 1945. Photo © The National Galleries of Scotland.

Would it matter much if those two great masterpieces of the Bridgewater Collection, Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, having been on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland since 1945, were soon to be sold abroad?

Ever since the Duke of Sutherland announced his intention to sell the two paintings — offering them to the National Galleries of England and Scotland for a mere £100 million, if such a sum can be raised by the start of 2009 — much fuss has been made about saving them for the nation.

Personally, however, I remain unconvinced. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under art, culture

Amongst the ruins: Hadrian at the British Museum

Et quod vides perisse perditum ducas

Hadrian: Empire and Conflict is an exhibition so weirdly fragmentary, unfocused and inconclusive as to leave me wondering how far, exactly, I should go in reading it not only as a metaphor for the future of the British Museum, but for cultural life more generally.

The way into the exhibition — chaotic, diffuse, confusing — prefigures what we’ll take away from it. Bathed in the milky light and perpetual semi-muffled roar of Great Court, I was guided first by the woman who sold me my ticket, and then by various signs and portents, into a darkened tunnel where my bag was nodded at, rather than searched, before someone else failed to sell me an audio-guide and directed me into an even darker tunnel beyond, which in turn led into a cul-de-sac. Had I missed the exhibition? No, the entrance was in fact now behind me. Having thus discovered the correct, alternative darkened tunnel, I made my way up it, along a low sloping ramp.

Hadrian enthusiasts of more optimistic stripe will, perhaps, have already begun to construe this ramp as a reference, stunning in its subtlety, to Hadrian’s tomb, now the Castel Sant’ Angelo, in Rome. Well, maybe.

Instead, though, my attention was transfixed by the view along the tunnel, upwards and to the left. For there, a few yards above me, ran shelf after shelf of books — half-hidden in the gloom, three-quarters forgotten, surely now wholly inaccessible — a tactless reminder of the fact that the exhibition space, left over from the recent occupation by everyone’s favourite Terracotta Army, is built out over the old Reading Room of the British Library. In other words, where once there was research, independent enquiry, the insistent coursing after knowledge (useful or otherwise) amongst the thickets and savannahs of the canonical printed or written word, now there is something else, superimposed across the top of it: spectacle, crowds appraised quantitas quam qualitas, crass money-making schemes, in short the ponderous mechanics of yet another British Museum Blockbuster.

Now, like most of us when we come up against the resonant detritus that is all we now have left of what used to be called Antiquity, I’m more than willing to succumb to semi-enjoyable reflection regarding the irrecoverability of the past, hackneyed regret that everything man-made really does end up ruined or lost eventually, or even pointless and sentimental sub-animist pity for the flotsam of Time’s shipwreck. That’s Antiquity’s promise, isn’t it, in all its well-worn emotional banality?

Yet it’s an oddity of Hadrian: Empire and Conflict that I managed to feel all these things before entering the exhibition itself, when confronted with the ruins of the Reading Room. Thus I stood alone for a moment, revisiting memories of doctoral research carried out countless ages ago, which is to say, in the early 1990s — those bigs desks with their turquoise-blue leather surfaces burnished by a thousand now-decayed elbows, the companionable clanking of the book trolleys, the weight of those archaic leather-bound catalogues in which so many answers were once thought to repose — and then, with a sigh, moved on.

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under culture