Is one exhibition more successful than another if you can remember it better after your visit? Well, let’s see…
There are just seven hundred meters as the crow flies between the “Museum for Communication” and the “Martin-Gropius-Bau”. Both museums opened in the end of the nineteenth century and the main characteristic of both buildings is a spectacular areaway. But whereas the Martin-Gropius-Bau presents international exhibitions of visual arts and cultural history, the Museum for Communication is dedicated to post history.
Two weeks ago I visited first the exhibition “WorldKnowledge” in the Martin-Gropius-Bau and then the exhibition “Rumors” in the Museum for Communication. “WorldKnowledge” celebrates 300 years of science in Berlin, “Rumors” deals with the phenomenon which is named in the title. And now, I close my eyes and see what I do remember…
In the first instance two different colors and atmospheres come to my mind. “WorldKnowledge”: black and subdued, “Rumors”: light green and gay.
I recollect the entrance situations: “Rumors” welcomed me with a picture of Fama, the rumor goddess, interpreted in a cool style by a modern designer. I can remember the dozens of eyeballs surrounding her, looking for new stories to tell. I still know that the text explained that Fama was not only meant to be responsible for rumors but also for a good reputation, which I found quite interesting.
“WorldKnowledge” began in the areaway where a colossal shelf is filled with circa 200 objects like skeletons, statues, apparatuses, fossils and so on. I can remember that I liked to look at the shelf, trying to discover connections between the diverse objects. I was impressed by the size of the shelf and mused about the miracles of the world. But I was not able to decipher the deeper meaning of the installation.
The objects in “WorldKnowledge” were exhibited in conventional show cases – and that is all I can recall about the design. No, not true, I remember that the second part of the exhibition, where different research methods like “experiment”, “travel” or “interpret” were deployed, the main color was white and that multimedia was used. That is all. In my opinion simple design does not mean bad design. But in that case it goes along with my conclusion that I can remember out of the abundance of exhibits only two objects: two paper bags with the portraits of the Iranian shah and his wife who visited Berlin in 1967. Students demonstrated against the visit wearing such bags on the head. I am sure that I just can remember them because I asked myself, who on earth preserved these fragile objects.
Apart from that I remember show cases all over show cases filled with documents, books and other papers. And I remember names, famous names: Grimm, Herder, Schopenhauer, Einstein… But I cannot connect the names to certain objects nor could I tell in which context the men (yes: men!) were mentioned. And even though I read the department texts attentively and even took notes, I could not tell you what was so characteristic about 300 years of science in Berlin! I just remember that the Prussian Kings played an important role in developing science and founding research institutions – but which Frederick did what: I am sorry.
Thinking at the “Rumors”-exhibition the extraordinary design comes immediately to my mind. Objects – just partly exhibited in show cases – and labels hang in a chaotic frame of wooden slats. Standing in the exhibition I had to think of a forest, but now I would describe it as a net, where rumors get caught. I remember a lot of the exhibits and in every case I can recall “which story they told”. Stuffed sea gulls were displayed to explain the origin of the word “mobbing”, because animals sometimes attack predators. A lively tarantula illustrated an “Urban Legend” (a woman licked an envelope, her tongue swelled, a doctor cut the tip of the tongue and a parade of little spiders emerged… The woman was a friend of my aunt – I swear!) and a sweet china carriage embodied the escape of a countess who had to flee because of a buzz which was launched on purpose to harm her. Strolling around in the exhibition I was surprised about the different facets and variations of rumors, something I had not expected but found very convincing.
I remember two more insights: that every rumor needs someone to tell – and someone to listen, and that a rumor just comes alive if it is relevant for both persons. Moreover I learned how important facts and information are to stop a rumor. These insights were cemented by the multimedia units. At one computer station I could generate a rumor about my person just entering some facts about me. (I carefully looked that nobody could read the created rumor – it was really mean!) At another I had to decide as the mayor of one small town in Egypt how I could fight a rumor which threatened tourism.
I remember how much fun I had strolling around the exhibition “Rumors” and how curious I was to discover the next facet of that cultural phenomenon. And I remember how proud I was going through “WorldKnowledge”, because all these famous men lived and did research in my home town and I felt connected to them, rooted in tradition. So, even though in my opinion the exhibition which I can remember more vividly two weeks after visiting is more successful, I had to admit, that in retrospect both achieved their goals. As I am convinced that the creators of “WorldKnowledge” would be perfectly content to know that they made me proud of being a Berliner…
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.