Eddie Pensier writes:
Last weekend, frequent UR commenter Tex and I decided to hit two iconic Canberra museums: The National Museum of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia. The latter is a traditional museum, with paintings and sculptures and objets d’art and such. The former is, not to put too fine a point on it, a national embarrassment.
The first noticeable feature of the museum site, is claimed by the museum’s website to have something to do with Uluru, but which probably should be called “Rollercoaster Track Desperately In Need Of Safety Inspection”.
Here is another prominent feature of the museum, bits of squished-up metal looking like tabs of hardware, perforated with holes like giant Braille. Oh, and some random red things sticking up too.
This courtyard is known as “Throw A Jigsaw Puzzle Of A Transit Map Into A Pond And Surround It With Striped Road-Safety-Looking Sticks”.
Oh wait, my mistake. It’s called “The Garden of Australian Dreams”. I’m not kidding.
The Garden of Australian Dreams is a symbolic landscape – large sculptural forms within a body of water, a little grass and a few trees. Encircled by the Museum, it provides an opportunity for visitors to stop and relax as they contemplate an artistic exploration of ‘place’ and ‘home’.
Indeed. Because this “symbolic” “landscape” instantly relaxes you.
Another view of the GOAD, surrounded by more of the squished-metal tabs, but IN COLOR this time!
Well that’s the building architecture well and truly mocked. At least the museum’s contents will be better, right?
In my decades-long history of museum-going on five continents, I can say without hesitation that this is the lamest, stupidest, most amateurish attempt at a museum I have ever seen. I, as a foreigner, was more keen than usual to learn some tidbits and arcana of Australian history in a striking and visual way. No dice. The interior of the museum was laid out in a disorganized way not unlike a convention center, with FUN FACTS!-type cards bombarding you from 360 degrees. There was no logic, no flow to the exhibit, rather a jumbled pile of ephemera just thrown onto the walls. It didn’t help that the lighting was extraordinarily poor, casting a murky pall over everything.
When I visit a museum, I expect that its basic purpose of existing is displaying things (art, artifacts, historical relics, whatever) in a manner that offers some advantage over looking at pictures of same in a book or reading about them. The way the NMA was laid out and lit did not provide such an advantage. Even without the poor planning, there was nothing of note on display, none of the cultural treasures that spring to mind when hearing the phrase “museum piece”. The objects on display tended towards the stunningly mundane. A book here, a dilapidated tractor there, an ugly dress elsewhere. It’s also worth mentioning that the POV of the exhibits was rather outrageously biased against colonization and embarrassingly biased in favor of indigenous culture. Not for nothing that the NMA is waggishly nicknamed by rightish types, “The Museum Of White Guilt”. It is a showcase for the unfortunate tendency of pale leftists to fetishize indigenous and primitive cultures.
There were exactly three things in the museum which I liked looking at:
An emu sculpted out of barbed wire
a replica of the Sydney Opera House created out of shells
and a small display of Aboriginal textiles.
Perhaps I was too optimistic in my hopes of receiving some enlightenment about my adopted country from this place. But I certainly didn’t expect the crushing, palpable disappointment I left with. I felt the need to cleanse myself with a real, proper museum, which is where I went next. Stay tuned.
- Paleo Retiree on infantile architecture.
- You won’t be the least bit surprised to hear that the same architects who perpetrated the NMA also designed Storey Hall at RMIT, which I featured in this overview of ugly Melbourne architecture and derisively nicknamed “The Snot Building”, for reasons that should be immediately apparent.