Say the word museum and I am guaranteed to get excited. I love museums and I'm not ashamed to say it, no matter how nerdy it makes me look. If they would let me, I would probably live inside of one. I have been a volunteer at the Milwaukee Public Museum for just over a year now, and my only regret is that I didn't sign up sooner. The MPM, like most other institutions of it's kind, are amazing places where you can learn just about anything you could imagine. In the middle of downtown Milwaukee, you can hike through a Costa Rican rain forest, you can walk amongst dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals, you can visit 19th century Europe or travel back in time the ancient Mediterranean. It's the latter part, of course, that brought me to the MPM in the first place. Unfortunately there permanent exhibit, Temples, Tells and Tombs, has been closed since last summer and just when it's going to reopen is any one's guess. It was, and hopefully again will be, an extremely well planned and researched exhibit spanning ancient cultures from the Egyptians through the Romans. The museum has a wonderful collection of artifacts, many of which are still on display throughout the museum, but it was the setting of these artifacts that really made the exhibit stand out. I love art museums, but they have always bothered me in the fact that they present artifacts for there sheer artistic importance as opposed to putting them in the context of their place in history. It is true that high quality artifacts from the ancient world are artistic masterpieces and should be treated as such, but something is lost in translation when a red-figure vase is looked at for it's beauty alone. That vase has a story; where it was found, who it was made by, what it was used for, what the story painted on it meant to it's owner. It is the details like these that tell the whole story of an artifact. Temples, Tells and Tombs had artifacts in cases just like any other museum, but it was the maps, diagrams, short history lessons and models that really brought the whole exhibit together. You didn't feel like you where merely looking at artifacts, you where transported back to the ancient world. The antithesis to Temples, Tells and Tombs is evident at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Now, it it's defense, I love the MAM and realize that ancient art is not it's focus. Milwaukee is lucky enough to have the outstanding ancient artifacts on display that we do, but I feel I must voice my opinion. The MAM room as it is, covers Egyptian through Roman art. The collection is small but diverse. The artifacts are displayed in the typical museum style, with placards describing where and when they came from and what they where used for. Unfortunately, that is all. A few maps, maybe a small tutorial on the differences between black-figure and red-figure pottery making would be nice. Something is needed to put the artifacts in their own time and place. They are beautiful for sure; the MAM has a wonderful Hydria by the Niobid painter which is exquisite. But, that Hydria is more than the sum of it's form and design. Now, I'm not saying that art museums should or need to be public history museums like the MPM, but a balance needs to be struck between the contextual and the aesthetic.
Here are some photos from the MPM and MAM exhibits for you to compare:
Monday, August 4, 2008
Posted by Primvs Pilvs at 6:33 AM