Museums are magical places. The world’s great museums are the repositories of all that is beautiful, exciting, inspiring, and fascinating. In years gone by, the visitor was left pretty much to him or herself to wander, gaze, and enjoy the exhibits, with the aid of perhaps a short note of explanation or a museum guidebook. Museum buildings were often beautiful, but it was the exhibits that took pride of place. The Building is the Thing In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the museum building itself has become the dominant element. For example, the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã) in Rio, Brazil, with its soaring structure seemingly suspended in space over a river, is surpassingly beautiful. Inside, interactive exhibits function as part of the building itself – the medium and the message become one. Another such masterpiece that attracts over a million visitors every year is The Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, France. Built at a cost of over a billion dollars, the breathtaking design could stand alone as an object of beauty, regardless of the exhibits in the eleven galleries that it contains.
In Miami, Florida, you can enjoy the magnificent Bass Contemporary Art Museum, with its clean cut and sleek outlines reaching up into the blue Florida sky. Hosting some of the best contemporary art exhibits to be found in the US, it was enlarged and overhauled in 2017, and is a great place to retreat from the bustle of North Beach sun and fun for peace and contemplation of great works of art. The Focus on Presentation Nowadays, the way that exhibits are presented is almost as important as the exhibits themselves. The recorded commentary of the museum’s highlights is more or a less standard offering. The visitor is led from one important piece to the next, while the commentary explains the significance of what he is seeing. Interactive activities describing what the visitor is seeing are par for the course, and this is particularly true in museums that attract many young visitors, such as the Natural History Museum in London, UK.
Such displays are very educational, and do help enhance enjoyment, but does it lead you to ignore the small, serendipitous things that you might notice if you are left to your own devices? Museums That Make You go “Hmmmm” Some of the world’s most bizarre museums rely simply on their amazing exhibits to tell their own story. One such is Iceland’s Phallological Museum, which displays, yes, two hundred phalluses. (You are probably asking the question, “Why?”). Another somewhat strange, although very beautiful museum can be found in Barcelona, famous for its more conventional museum offerings. This is the Museum of Funeral Carriages, offering an insight into the majestic conveyances which carried grand Barcelona residents to their final resting places over the centuries. If you are looking for a really strange museum experience, The Great Escape Museum in Miami, Florida, offers a real challenge for the visitor.
Each room contains clues to allow you to work out how to escape into the next room. Unique and puzzling, it’s a cross between a collection of artifacts and a mind- bending game. Another intriguing Miami museum is the Coral Castle. Built by the highly eccentric Edward Leedskalnin, it’s an enormous building made from limestone, and is surrounded by legends and mysteries that will send chills up even the hardiest visitor’s spine. Tiny Museums That are Well Worth Visiting Museum venues range from the magnificent to the microscopic. It isn’t necessary for a museum to be overwhelmingly grand to be fascinating and rewarding. There are museums in closets – the Edgar Alan Poe
Museum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama – in a phone box – in Barnington, North Yorkshire, UK, showing WW2 artifacts – even in an old elevator shaft, which is of course located in New York – the museum houses a series of exhibitions with a special focus on the ordinary and on religion. Such tiny museums have no budget or space for a fancy presentation. Here the exhibits must speak for themselves – even space for labeling is at a premium. The Strange and the Eccentric Blossom Many towns and villages have tucked away private museums that are the product of a single person’s passion. With barely a budget to keep the lights on, exhibits are lovingly curated with hand-written labels and ancient showcases. The oddest things are prized by the most eccentric people – especially in the UK. Some of the strangest things have appealed to collectors, and lovingly presented collections of seemingly quite dull artifacts can be found all over the British Isles. Take for example the Lawnmower Museum, boasting over a hundred carefully restored examples from the hundreds of years of lawn mowing history.
This can be found in Southport, in Lancashire, in the somewhat fittingly named Shakespeare Street. Or how about the Victor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in London? This is one man’s nightmare collection of the weird, the crazy, and the frankly obscene – including the preserved …err um …poops ….of Amy Winehouse! It’s almost a relief to consider the Overbecks Museum, often known as the Electric Shock Museum, which you can find in the old-fashioned little seaside town of Salcombe in Devon. Here is exhibited a wonderful array of machines designed to improve your health by giving electric shocks. Of course, no brief survey of museums would be complete without a mention of the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke on Trent, the center of the British pottery industry. This rather splendid museum features a gallery dedicated to the bog, the crapper, the WC, yes, it’s the Flushed With Pride gallery featuring the history of toilets. (This is quite a popular theme for museums, so don’t pooh pooh the idea.
One of the best is in Delhi, the Sulabh Toilet Museum https://www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org) Museums are Essential – You Never Know When You Will Need Crazy! Chances are that you have a museum memory from your childhood. Perhaps your parents stopped off on a long drive, anxious to entertain fretting children with anything that came along, to visit some local museum that was the loved pet project of just one person or family. Maybe that person came out and greeted your family and gave you a guided tour of those dusty relics. And just maybe, it ignited in you a passion that you carried with you for the rest of your life. In a world that is increasingly bland and uniform, museums are there to remind you that life can be crazy, that obsessions are fascinating, and that beauty is timeless. Whether it is great or small, fancy or plain, gorgeously displayed or thrown together any old how, hugely well-funded by public contributions or limping along on scraped together pennies, the museum is the vital repository of the history of humanity, be it hot dog packaging or the race to the stars.
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