The MTV of museums

Exhibits at the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, Leningrad

Exhibits, Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, Leningrad

Dalrymple pays a visit to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa,

a giant amusement arcade.

Wording on one of the exhibits invites Dalrymple to

hold a sound-shell to your ear, press the button and hear some freaky, weird stuff about nearby creations.

Exhibits

Exhibits, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

Here are some of the museum’s hectoring slogans:

  • Everyone has a place at our place
  • Where there are people there is art
  • Is it treasure or junk? Everyone has an opinion
  • Home is where the art is

These, says Dalrymple, are

a little reminiscent of the museums of religion and atheism in the Soviet Union.

If, he writes,

one has the mentality of a child of limited intelligence and curiosity, one might have been amused or kept out of trouble for a while, but nothing more.

Not a museum at all

What sort of person runs such a place?

Certainly not a curator, because no detailed knowledge of any subject is necessary. A casino owner, perhaps.

This travesty of a museum is

the institutional exemplar of the lowest common demoninator turned into official cultural policy.

As a small concession, on the third floor,

in a bare concrete gallery, ill-lit and unadvertised, there are two rows of paintings. There are no signs to say what they are, or who they are by. For a small and young nation, not entirely sure of its cultural identity, New Zealand has a considerable tradition of painting: but the visitors to this gallery are made to feel that, by visiting it, they are doing something almost illicit. There is a dirty-postcard feel to the gallery.

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