What do these two photos have in common? True, both were taken inside museum galleries—even if the location is obscured in the lower photo by the throngs of people, completely lacking in the top photo. The main point in common is the large dark object on display in both galleries: the Rosetta Stone. The "stone" in the top photo, taken in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, is actually a plaster cast of the original; the original stands in the British Museum, shown in the lower photo. The crowds illustrate the value we place on authenticity—but could it also be symptomatic of the different display concepts? The cast of the Rosetta Stone in Munich is certainly no crowd magnet, but it is also not set up to be one: rather, it is a supporting actor in the gallery on writing and printing technologies. In the British Museum, by contrast, the Stone is displayed right at the entrance to the ancient art wing (creating traffic problems), telling visitors (as well as expecting them to know already) that it is a highlight. Cues like this definitely affect the way visitors clump and move among the displayed objects.
Within the city-sized complex that is the Deutsches Museum in Munich, one gallery is devoted to ceramic technology. This room houses a model of an ancient Roman pottery production center, an enormous vat for transporting acids, and many smaller wonders of ceramic that we encounter (mostly unknowingly) in our everyday lives. The ceramic knife and roller skate wheels are mounted with small pieces of clear plastic onto a clear plastic sheet standing vertically in the back of the display case—a good way to make the display more legible and interesting than simply laying out the objects on a tabletop. They seem to "float" in front of the very colorful orange backdrop.
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.