Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Babylon at the British Museum

Not my usual topic for a news blog, but one which may be of general interest. I went to the British Museum the other day to see their widely publicised exhibition on Babylon. And I was mightily disappointed. It followed a trend all to common in Museums these days. It was verbose and boring. There were relatively few objects (but some were spectacular), but massively long captions. Text is what a museum catalogue is for (and this catalogue was excellent. Words can be put in books. But objects can't. A museum should do what it, and only it can do, and that is show specimens, objects. It was good to see lots of paintings (and even a few of the Tower of Babel), but as far as I am concerned once you have seen one cuneiform tablet or cylinder, you have seen them all.

I speak as a former musem designer, as my first job was designing gallery exhibits in the Natural History Museum (a.k.a British Museum (Natural History))so I do have a bit of background. In this exhibition the catalogue is more impressive than the exhibition. Barring a few bits and pieces from the Berlin Museum,I came away feeling very disappointed. And then spent the next hour scouring the galleries of Ancient Egypt to see if I could find an image of a Siberian White Crane. Without success, though an image has recently been found, suggesting they were once much more widespread. But it's always interesting to go around museums looking for ancient images of wildlife -- it gives me a sense of purpose.

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