Thursday 8 October 2009

Another Day, Another Museum

The featured Museum for today's Museum Speeddating was the Musee du Quai Branly. This was the big project of Jacques Chirac when he was top banana of France. MQB is another example of museum recycling. In 2006 the ethnographic collections of two old museums were given a shiny new home, designed by Jean Nouvel.

The good points: The Museum is very conceptual. The idea is that world cultures should be presented in dialogue, and on their own merits, rather than from a standpoint of European superiority. What that actually means is that there are no walls between the themed galleries.
The four areas – Oceania, Asia, Africa and Americas – are marked by a change in the floor colour. Similarities, differences and adaptations of each culture are highlighted. There are no big graphic panels and the absence of walls plus the fact that many of the cases are glass boxes means you can, literally, see the connections between displays. (The architect’s vision, btw, was for a ‘forest’ of displays.)

The turnoffs: Because of their history, ethnographic museums always suffer from accusations of cultural superiority, but it’s true that I think the experience would have been better if Europe had been represented too. I’m sure most visitors to the Museum are European and it would make much more sense to consider other cultures in the context of your own rites of passage. I’m guessing, though, that the ‘new’ Museum inherited a fixed collection and that none of its neighbours (Louvre, Musee d’Orsay etc) were willing to share (although interestingly enough, some pieces of the original collection have gone to the Louvre as examples of ‘primitive art’). Also, the concept (which was gone into in loving detail in all the literature and at the entrance) falls down occasionally. I struggled to see any difference in floor colour between Oceania and Asia. 

Would you go on a second date? Here’s the thing. I liked the big ideas. And I think on further acquaintance the museum would offer up more insights.  Plus, I applaud the bravery of trying to do something different with these kinds of collections.  So, on balance, yes.

1 comment:

  1. Europe is represented- there's stuff from Andalucia there, I'm positive. So nyeh.