A final post about the glorious Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam! This time a technical apect of its permanent exhibition Afterlives of Slavery. Here the display technology resembles a bit the industrical metal grid in the Flesh exhibition currently on in Berlin. The difference is, here the grid is used as a platform for attaching all sorts of materials, not just hanging labels and pictures. Most creatively, the structure is used to best advantage by being paired with a flexible plastic sheet on which the texts are printed; the plastic is cut into strips that can be woven directly into the grid! At right you can see two varieties of this technique, an overall-basket-weave at the top and a just-the-corners tactic below. Allowing infinite combinations and configurations is a huge advantage for such a material. I can imagine it being trotted out time and again for all sorts of different exhibitions, a handy device in the museum's tool box.
In the exhibition Repliken Wissen = Replica Knowledge, currently in Berlin's Tieranatomisches Theater, all of the objects are original—and none of them are. The exhibition displays modern replicas of Minoan and Mycenaean art in order to point out that replicas, far from being simply reproductions of some much more interesting "originals," have their own stories to tell. Their lifetimes may not be as old as that of the archaeological objects they copy, but they are complex, thrilling, and illuminating in their own way. Displaying multiple replicas made from the same model (such as the drinking cups above) highlights this theme of copying.
One of the display techniques that cleverly underscored this message consisted of pools of plaster under the objects on the glass shelves. These slightly irregular blobs form a much-needed opaque backdrop and injection of color to frame the pieces, which, many in shiny metal, would otherwise melt into a sea of reflections in the glinting vitrines. Moreover, the plaster pools (as curator Felix Sattler explained on a tour) recall the process of molding and pouring plaster replicas of the ancient objects. Thus the theme of the show is reinforced by its display. Definitely worth a visit, as is the Theater building itself; it's up through the end of March.
Let's return to the splendid gallery of minerals and gems in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to talk about shelving technology. (In a previous post we ogled the dramatic lighting that makes the objects sparkle like, well, jewels!) These shelves are designed on a simple principle: cables stretched from the bottom to the top of the case are fitted with small steel cylinders that can slide along them as well as clamp onto a corner of a glass shelf, allowing the shelves to be adjusted to an infinite range of heights. Here they are smartly deployed in a case with a glass front and back, so that you can look right through; the minimalist shelving helps this unobstructed view. The result is beautiful as well as clever—if not exactly transferable to earthquake country!
To balance the last post on diffuse lighting, in this post I want to revel in a gorgeous example of an unusually dark gallery lit with highly precise spotlights. In the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is a spectacular hall of minerals and gems. The shining glass cases, lighting, and black carpeting and walls all help make the objects appear precious, almost hallowed — they have an aura. Encased in glowing octagonal pods, they somehow even seem otherworldly. And while it's true that many of the specimens are themselves sparkly, impossibly pointy, or otherwise eye-catching, it's the display that really contributes to their inexorable pull. Talk about exhibition design amplifying the best qualities of a collection: you can hardly resist approaching the case for a better look at these, well, precious gems! Which leads to the question of keeping this glass free of nose- and fingerprints...
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.