Monday, March 22, 2010

A visit to the Ashmolean Museum

For those of you who have read the blog over the last year you'll probably have noticed the occasonal report about the massive refurbishment at the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, UK), which lead to it being closed for a period. I went with a friend to see it on Thursday, to see the archaeological sections.

The first thing to highlight is that the Egyptology section hasn't changed. One or two artefacts seem to have been moved around but that's all. The refurbishment did not include the four ancient Egyptian galleries are much as they were. Sadly the wall of Amarna relief fragments is no longer illuminated and they are almost impossible to see.

We had a look at other archaeology sections that interested us both. The new design is modern, clean and attractive. The presentation of the objects themselves has changed considerably and I am very much in two minds about how successful that it actually is.

My friend described the presentation as taking an art gallery approach, which really hits the nail on the head. Instead of showing lots of artefacts and giving a wide view of a place the new presentation takes the most attractie or remarkable of the collection and, with beautiful lighting, presents them as highlights of an area. Information boards help to describe the galleries, but there is a loss of the sense of variety and depth which the rather untidy layout surviving in the ancient Egyptian galleries still maintains.

I found the new Ashmolean quite beautiful but much less informative. I would have liked to have seen a much better balance between attractive presentation cabinets and the volume and richness of displays you would expect to see in a museum so closely tied in with a research institution like Oxford University.

I suppose that there's never going to be a way of pleasing everyone with such a dramatic re-invention.

1 comment:

Ann said...

Andie, don't forget that you go there with a larger interest/attention span for knowledge than the average person.

They did the same in the Gallo-Roman museum (.be) and there it really worked. A clear storyline, and less fire axes on display. :d (But there are quite a bit of video displays now, and interactive info screens for people who want to know more. Really, a video on 'how to use a firestone to make fire' works better educational than 50 firestones! ;;)

Else people who go to see the entire museum get terribly bored after a few galleries, and now they see the best items of all.

Maybe a solution would be to have for each theme a few 'main galleries' and then sub galleries which are more crowded/cluttered/informational and branch off to give detail on the stories told by the main galleries. But then, that would ask for another refurbishment? ;)