The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gallery Chat: The Carnivores

OK, so the point of this post (and following 'Gallery Chat' posts) is to see what you folk out there make of various exhibits and museumy things. Talk... give opinions... it will be fun!

This summer I spent some time in the USA, and managed to get in a fair few museum and science centre visits. I can't possibly inflict all the photos on non-museumy people, so I'm going to put some of the more interesting ones up on the blog.

The thumbnail picture above is a case from the extremely famous, and generally wonderful American Museum of Natural History in New York... inspiration for such movie greats as The Squid And The Whale, and Night At The Museum. Hidden away, in between some of the more modern and glossy galleries is a corridor containing about 8 cases, including, and all very similar to, the one above. This is the gallery of wildlife local to New York and it's environs.

So, what do you think?


Amy said...

Thanks for instigating 'Gallery Chat's Elee!

My thoughts:

I'm no natural history specialist and know even less about its presentation in the museum environment, but this example has an air of old age about it. In Britain (I don't know about elsewhere) we're used to those hideous taxidermy tableaux - representing nature as it is in the wild (supposedly). This has a more scientific air about it. The 'unnatural' arrangement of the specimens, mounted on the wall of the case lends itself to the 'objective' gaze of scientific enquiry - we can compare size and build with few distractions. This type of display holds no truck with the sensationalism of Victorian natural history presentations. There's no recourse to the senses, to providing an 'experience' for the visitor here. Just cold, hard facts.

It's got to be mid-century right?

Elee said...

It's an interesting point you make, Amy. I can see what you mean, although I don't think that's what I was feeling when I was actually in the gallery.

I have to admit, I'm a real sucker for well done dioramas, and the AMNH does them particularly well. They do really attract the visitors, and the taxidermy looks incredibly realistic. By comparison, these specimens looked quite sad and unappealing.

I guess the question here is, should we display things in a way that pushes people's buttons (as the dioramas seem to), or should we try to present things in ways that represent ideas and information that people may not have thought about before? And also, which is most fake/real? Is this display giving more *real* information than the diorama, or vice versa?

I have to say, the gallery didn't give any information about why the specimens were displayed in this way. I hoped that there would be an explanation for the deviation from the rest of the 'House Style', but I couldn't find anything. My conclusion at the time was that it must have been down to budget! Could be wrong though... it has been known!

Jenny said...

If I may be permitted to interject at this point -

I think that whether you display as people want and expect, or whether you display concepts in a new way is wholly context dependent. By and large, I'd go for the option that induced new thought, but that's me and those are my aims. In any case, need the two be entirely opposed? Perhaps diaramas can be thought provoking and weird, and perhaps people do want to have strange new ideas broadcast to them.

As to the idea of which is more real? Define to me what you mean by the idea of real, and then I'll answer.

This is a nice idea, Elee.

J said...

Mmm, looks like they were trying to appeal to the public that was familiar with pelts: fur-coat-wearing-5th-Avenue-Uptown-Ladies-Who-Lunch?

Elee said...

Yeah, although the lynxes look a bit stiff to make decent scarves. Possibly bench seats instead?