This post has been a long time in coming, insofar as this particular display idea was one of the motivations to create this blog in the first place: that's how beautiful, simple, and effective I think it is. With it, the wonderful Airborne Museum Hartenstein in Arnhem (the Netherlands) has tackled the difficult problem of making primary-source documents approachable — in this case, eye-witness accounts of life in Arnhem during World War 2. The Dokumentationszentrum Berliner Mauer addressed this problem in a different but also very effective way. Still, for simplicity, this arrangement takes the prize. Aesthetically it's quite nice too, as if presenting the visitor with a bouquet of flowers that happen to be written on; it does attract a person's attention, far more than texts set flat on a wall. Although the metal stems are permanently fixed to the metal "blossoms" of text, I can imagine a variation on this idea that would allow the texts to be switched out periodically — perhaps even replaced with the occasional object, a hands-on addition to the textual bouquet.
History museums have a tougher row to hoe than art museums, in some ways, because the objects they put on display do not usually fall within the category of "fine art" and therefore may not be considered worth looking at per se. Most of all, how to engage a viewer with texts — the bread and butter of historical research — is a very tricky issue that history museums have to address. How can you display a ream of letters and documents in a compelling way?
The Dokumentationszentrum Berliner Mauer found an elegant solution to this problem. A series of cables and thin steel poles stretch from floor to ceiling, standing as masts of sorts for the "flags" of text panels hung on them. Oversized panels were bound into booklets of which each "page" held two A4 sheets and an explanatory text. The visitor could page through the cluster, looking at each page in turn. Several cables and poles held not booklets but lightboxes with historic photographs.
The overall effect was wonderfully open — no walls necessary! — as well as highly engaging, in my experience. Rifling through the big splayed boards is incredibly tempting. Visiting the Zentrum's website just now, I see that the whole building (and probably its surrounds, which are just as much a part of the museum) is under renovation; let's hope that some of this wonderful ingenuity appears in their new design as well.
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.