Disclaimer: I work at the Royal Ontario Museum, and do not have to pay the fee to see the exhibition (but I’m also a ROM Member). I was not involved in any way with the development of the exhibition, however.
In the week leading up to the opening of Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano at the Royal Ontario Museum there was an animation of the smoking peak of Vesuvius on the outside of the building. It got a little worse as the days went on – this was taken on Thursday night:
Then on Friday evening, there was this explosive display:
It was pretty spectacular! But does the exhibition itself live up to this excitement?
Much of it is fairly understated story of what life was like in Pompeii, to establish context. Although I’d seen a lot in UK/Euro museums about Roman life, the items on display are all very specific to Pompeii & daily life there, which piqued my interest. On top of that, there was a lot of great information about the geology of the area & how the eruption played out.
Displays on what everyday people wore, as well as nobles and the military started off the exhibition. There’s a great spot to see if you can tie a toga on and have it look as badass as the ones in the marble statues.
Information dipped into theatre, religion and sex too. Pompeii had quite a thriving drama scene, it seems – two major stadiums! I had no idea. (The first image below is that of two statues of actors). And then I was also enlightened to the fact that phalluses were a sign of good luck in ancient Pompeii/Rome, which explains this super fancy windchime.
That last image is of an earthquake scene Pompeii had survived prior to the massive eruption – what a volatile area of the Mediterranean to live in. But it seems like overall, it was a beautiful area to live, right on the water with a gorgeous mountain right there and thriving marketplaces. I was most taken by the carbonized food remains found at Pompeii – as much as anything, an amazing snapshot of people’s tastes and diets. (Just don’t read too much into how they made fish sauce…) Bread, figs and olives, oh my!
So – society, military, religion, fine foods.. what left but art? Gorgeous and usually functional pieces, friezes & mosaics pepper the exhibition. The glass at the end was found, likely having been trapped in an enclosed space set on fire by the eruption.
Of course, everyone knows that the story of Pompeii won’t have a happy ending. Moving through the exhibiton, near the end you will find yourself in a darkish space – a statue slightly in the distance, doomy gloomy lighting and a projection of Vesuvius erupting on the far wall. An infographic off to the side lays out a lot of the geological information, and the timeline that the residents of Pompeii would have experienced – and the time at which it would’ve been too late for them.
After this, there’s a stark space that hosts a number of casts of the victims of the eruption, prone in their poses of death. The focus on their remains and their stories is really well done, with nothing to detract from that. (As opposed to the cast of the dog, pictured below, which is actually at the very start of the exhibition, and a pretty distressing thing to see straight up front.) I won’t show them all, as I think it’s worth going through the exhibition to learn about the lives the people of Pompeii led, and how unfortunate their deaths were.
I think the sombre end to the exhibition is the best way to finish the story of Pompeii, without going on afterward. My overall impression is the flow & design of the space weaves through the displays very well (although some parts are prone to bottleneck). Lighting is great, reproductions of art used for negative spaces & bare walls makes a huge difference in enjoying the exhibition, and breathes some life into it. I especially thought the dramatic “eruption” space with the gloomy/flickering lighting was effective.
Even though most of my visits have been fairly brief, I’ve had a chance to learn some key information and facts, because the text isn’t presented in overwhelming chunks. Short blurbs, quotes, etc draw the viewer in easily, and those more keen on finding out more can read on further – and I think the very focused nature of the exhibition and its story overall can help stave off visitor fatigue. It definitely makes a visit to just one part of a very large museum easier, too.
If you’re in Toronto and want to check out #ROMpeii (best hashtag ever, am I right?) then it’s running until January 3rd 2016. It’s an engaging look at the life and death of Pompeiians, with family interactives and great information. There’s a lot of events going on, too. And if you’d like to read something about the exhibition not by me, head to Justin & Lauren’s blog about it here. (They’ve even been to the real Pompeii!)
Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano runs until January 3rd 2016. Tickets are inclusive of general admission and cost: $28 adults | $25.50 students/seniors | $20 children 4-14 years (toddlers 3 & under are free) | Members FREE.
The ROM is open daily 10am – 5.30pm (and to 6.30pm on Fridays), except December 25th. Check out Best Value Fridays after 4.30pm!
The EMP Museum in Seattle is like someone asked “what is Nicole a nerd about?” and made a museum (minus the board games, get on it EMP!). The EMP Museum used to be the “Experience Music Project” but has grown to be generally a pop culture – film, movies, music etc – museum in a gorgeous Gehry building.
I was lucky enough to be in town while the Star Wars costume exhibition was showing, and made a beeline to see that first. It is a mix of costume and design information from the newer prequels, and also the original trilogy. Even though I’m not as much of a fan of episodes 1-3, the costuming is incredible and it was amazing to see it close up.
But I did get the most, nostalgically, out of the older info, designs and costuming. I especially loved the sketches and inspiration cited for many of the costumes, and the droid design. Beautiful stuff.
Next stop were a couple of smaller exhibitions as part of the (what I believe to be) permanent displays. I didn’t know they were part of the museum (I planned my visit poorly, obviously) and I was so excited to wander through. The first was “Can’t Look Away: the Lure of Horror Film“. There’s a little bias on some of the content due to the directors that consulted & curated clips of their favourite films (Roger Corman, John Landis, and Eli Roth), but it does a great job at looking at the genre overall, highlighting the history of the iconic movies in the genre, looks at monsters and fear and has loads of cool artefacts on display. I legitimately flipped out at the Sean of the Dead shirt. It had a lot of great information, and was a good primer for those not familiar with horror movies. And the design of the space, plus the audio playing around there, was perfect.
Heading out of horror into Sci-Fi, the Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction exhibition has a bit less of a narrative, but still showcases the vastness of the genre in film and TV very well, old school and new. Terminator 2 is one of my fave all time movies, so I geeked out a lot at that little glass case, but really enjoyed all of the stuff on display. So much is from a private collection, I’d love to be in a place to have that stuff in my own collection!
Onto something slightly more laid back, the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibition was thematically a gorgeous space (down to the stone walls, magic tree structures and fake pine needles on the floor) and had a lot of my favourites in there. I really enjoyed the interactives they had on various screens in this exhibition too – taking quizzes to see what kind of fantasy archetype you are, creating a map of a fantasy kingdom etc. It was a real treat to see the Princess Bride costumes and weapons!
I wandered the “main” part of the building after that, popping into the Indie Game Revolution exhibition and also checking out the very cool Sound Lab interactive (I learnt to play a little hook on the piano!). Marveled at the massive guitar installation, too.
My last stop was the Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibition. I came a little late to being a fan of Nirvana, but in the mid 90s I was a huge fan of grunge in general, especially Pearl Jam. And that also influenced a lot of the music I ended up getting into, especially other punk and riot grrl. This blurb about the exhibiton says it as well as anything else: “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses explores the public and personal story of a single band, but it also invites visitors to discover the underground music scene in which Nirvana developed.” I very much enjoyed the look at the band’s development in context of the local scene, and especially the ‘oral history’ of music around that time, which was accessible at screens throughout the exhibition to sit down and explore. There were also lots of music stations throughout the exhibition to listen to Nirvana’s music from certain periods, along with their peers.
I felt a lot of emotion and connection to the exhibitions I saw at the EMP Museum. Usually when I’m visiting a museum in a city, it’s pretty history-centric, about a place/culture/environment. This was about stuff I loved, and it was great to have that experience when visiting a museum.
The EMP Museum is open daily, you can buy tickets online & also (like I did) get them as part of the Seattle City Pass. The price is a little high, but for the extensive content on display, I believe it’s worth it – especially when you are passionate about pop culture!
In many places on the internet, my username (when it’s not Nicole) is “iheartmuseums”. Back when I was trying to go with something a little more personal but not my actual name, I figured.. well, this is pretty accurate! Despite all the other things I’m into, I’m a museum lover for life. I’ve had a few people wonder recently about my username and what it is I love so much about museums, so I figured this irregularly scheduled TILT can be about that!
(I’m just going to pepper this post with some of my fave museum pics from the large Flickr set I have, to make it not a giant wall of text!)
I grew up in a rural town not near any large cities with museums. I was lucky enough to travel each summer to Sydney with my mum and/or grandmother, and would frequently visit the Australian Museum and the Powerhouse Museum. It was astonishing and awe-inspiring for a kid like me who grew up watching all the Attenborough docs she could to be able to walk around institutions like those and see the collections and research and exhibitions all around me and realize there were people doing this as their jobs and their careers.
As I got older I traveled to Sydney each year less and less. My connection with museums waned. It wasn’t until my last (or second last?) year of high school that it sparked again. My ancient history class took a field trip to Brisbane (about a 5 hour drive from where I lived!) to visit the Antiquities Museum at the University of Queensland, as well as the Anthropology Museum at the same campus, and also the Queensland Museum. I remembered that same wonder and awe, being surrounded by objects and information and stories.
A few years later, I ended up attending the University of Queensland. In my first semester as an anthropology/archaeology student, we visited both the museums I’d been to back in high school and I had this weird feeling. Not (just) of deja vu and realization that hey, I was back in these places, but also that I belonged there. That finally I’d decided to study something and be in a place where I could engage with museums not just as a visitor but as a student, a theorist, a collection manager, and… well, and a nerd.
Sure, you say. I get excited about museums. But why do I heart them?? Hold your breath.. There’s quite a few reasons. Starting with that physical feeling – being surrounded by the architecture of museums, the large gallery spaces, the historic buildings and the enormity of that. The interesting and necessary research being done behind the scenes. Being in exhibitions that show you the history of a place or of a people. Learning things outside your limited experience of the world. Expanding your understanding of the world and how that can positively impact your respect of the environment, animals and people living in it. The beauty of objects, natural or made by humans (or even sometimes animals).
What draws me in most of all is objects. This really reached out to me during my studies, and shaped my interest and focus on museums and material culture. Objects have such power and history and information and stories contained in them. Every little thing about a piece in a museum’s collection says something. Be it a stone tool from Africa, a fossil from China, a textile from India.. Where did it come from, what is it made of, who made it? When you look at the texture of it, you think about how it came to be. What was it used for? Natural history specimens tell a whole story of their own, not being made by humans – but their origin and genetics are key; a lot of research is done looking at museum collections over many years to see the narrative of the change of species and their environments. There are quite a few museums with specimens of extinct species, which as objects are full of information and history. Looking at a Dodo in Oxford was something that sparked a lot of things for me.
Nothing drives me more as a museum visitor and as an enthusiast than fascinating objects and how they connect me to the world. When I’m working in a collection, I’ll always crave finding out more through the databases and object history files. When I’m in a gallery, I’ll always seek out interpretive information. Objects have stories – some of them short, long, interesting, simple – and museums go a long way to sharing those stories. I love that, and I love museums.
Previously: the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
On a beautiful, sunny Seattle day I grabbed a coffee and made my way through a lovely park near the south end of Union Lake to the Museum of History and Industry (or MOHAI). I’d had this recommended to me by friends, and was glad that I stopped in.
The main gallery of the museum takes you through Seattle’s history, from the indigenous groups of the region and their culture & technology, through the settlement of the area by colonists, the development of industry through the wars, prohibition, to modern times and innovations in the area (including the musical accomplishments of the grunge era!).
There was also a section on Maritime Seattle specifically, which I found a little less engaging and interesting. As a little single-gallery exhibit, there was something called A Place At the Table, which is a nod to the Greek cuisine history of the area. It was like a little snippet of the ethnicity pie of the city, even though it wasn’t too in depth.
I really enjoyed the special exhibition American Spirits, the rise and fall of prohibition. It’s a part of history that the country I grew up in really didn’t experience, so it was fascinating to see how it really became part of life, culture and history.
Then there were some general things down in the main floor/lobby of the museum – their innovation space, and general displays that stood on their own.
I would recommend MOHAI if you’re interested in learning a bit more about Seattle’s history, but also their current efforts in innovation and industry. It’s in a lovely spot, and the building is beautiful (and accessible). I paid $17 to get in, and that included all of the exhibitions. There is a small store and a cafe on site, also. Plus, you can’t beat wandering around the grounds to see cool stuff like this..
Thanks for the great morning, MOHAI! I’ll be back.
Having cut my teeth at the University of QLD Anthropology Museum, and being surrounded by other great campus museums, I knew I’d need to stop in and check out the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. Universities benefit greatly for research and student use of campus museums – when I was studying, I got a chance to work in the gallery and collections, as well as putting together exhibitions. And the benefit of the museums being open to the public means greater reach of your exhibitions and materials.
After meandering through the campus from the bus stop, I was greeted by some beautiful totem poles and wooden carvings, plus a lush ethnobotanical garden. Ah, the things you can get away with in a climate like Seattle’s. It’s a beautiful and welcoming front to the museum.
Heading inside to the small lobby/main hall of the museum, I paid my entrance fee (a modest $10USD), and beelined straight for the Pacific Voices exhibition. My familiarity with ethnographic collections lies with Pacific materials, having studied & worked in Museums in Australia – so it was like a little trip home in a sense.
Grouped broadly into cultural/geographic groups, you start with Hawaii and wind your way through the gallery. The displays have a great range of artifacts and both historic and recent information about the cultures they are from. I loved the section of Hawaii that had a section on hula – you could listen to recordings, and they had this great card from a local Seattlite on how to do hula.
I really enjoyed this exhibition, the content and the way they tried to engage visitors, especially school groups. I’m biased, because I love South Pacific material culture especially, but everything was beautiful. I loved the puppets case, and – of course – the stuff on North West Pacific First Nations culture.
Upstairs there was also a great exhibition tying together NW Pacific art and objects from the collection with new pieces of art that inspired local native artists in Washington state. It was intriguing to see the influences of the collection material on the new forms of art. These were my favourites:
The bulk of the rest of the exhibition space was dedicated to natural history, in some part detailing research at UW, but also on the natural history of Washington state, following through a linear narrative. It was great for someone like me, who’d never been to that part of the continent, but I assume it’s invaluable for school students on visits also. Lots of stuff about glaciers, volcanos, shifting sea levels, and how that all shaped the landscape and ecology of the area. Lots of fossils and specimens, but I particularly enjoyed these artifacts. The gorgeous patterns of the tree slices and the colour of the stone tool had me enamoured.
If you find yourself in the U District of Seattle with a morning or afternoon to spare, I encourage you to visit the Burke Museum. If you’d like to punctuate your wandering of the galleries and gawking at the displays with a bite to eat or some coffee, there’s a cafe on the premises. Take the time to enjoy visiting a small museum that subsists on donations and admission fees.
Toronto’s currently hosting Douglas Coupland‘s exhibition, shown already to great response in Vancouver, at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)* and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA). From the exhibition website: Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything includes over 100 works. The exhibition is divided into six themes, four of which are on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and two at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA).
Everything about the work on display at both venues is so wonderfully vibrant, engaging and visually rich! That is something I just can’t get over, and I’m reminded by browsing the photos I took. Coupland’s quirky way of interacting with and understanding the world is really at the forefront of all of the pieces, and there’s quite a bit of variety. Here’s a few general shots (you can see all my #couplandTO exhibition photos here):
Although there’s much more, I think my favourite pieces at the ROM are the couple following. The slogans are so eye-catching and equal parts ridiculous and insightful. “I miss my pre-internet brain” for sure. And the largest installation piece (at a guess) is the Brain. It’s a carefully constructed mass of objects that Coupland’s been collecting over the years. As the concept and action of collecting is fascinating to me, as well as the idea of ephemera and object history, this is delightful!
Over at MOCCA there’s a little more of a Canadiana feel to the pieces on display. What I especially loved was the idea of representation of regional ‘personalities’ with all the cabinets, the idea of suburbia/conformity vs future structures/collaboration, and also the mixing of introduced cultures into Canadian society. And as I absolutely love the Group of 7 art styles, I was really interested in Coupland’s take on that toward the end of the exhibit, especially Harris’ pieces. A truly eclectic gathering of art and objects that all works incredibly well together, and as a companion to the exhibition at the ROM.
I highly recommend checking out both of the exhibitions, because they truly complement each other. The ROM piece runs until April 26th, and the MOCCA piece until April 19th. Enjoy!
* Full disclosure: I work at the ROM but I am in no way associated with the exhibition beyond that, and I would’ve come to see it anyhow because I’m a super nerd.
Alright friends. Let’s think happy thoughts. First up, because Craig on the show and his anger management tactic of listing things he loves is totally relevant..
We spent much of our anniversary evening last night catching up on the latest season.. It’s gonna be over soon 😦 So sad. This is really the only comedy/sitcom I’ve legit laughed out loud at in forever. That and maybe Bob’s Burgers.
I’m still loving where I work and my new job! It’s been a great couple of months settling in and starting to get to know people. I love the spaces, the places, the people, the programs, the objects. It’s just great being here, y’now?
I still can’t believe how amazing Bunners is. That bakery is killin’ it, with amazing and delicious vegan & GF treats. I mean, I love gluten, but I will ALWAYS put Bunners in my mouth. Here’s a couple of recent, love-themed highlights. So delish.
And finally, I love sending/receiving snail mail! I’ve probably mentioned it before. But I get so excited. This week I sent a little package off to a Twitter friend in the Seattle area, and also started on doing Postcrossing. It’s so neat just having people on tap to send postcards to! Postcards are my fave, I love their little snapshots and their sense of ephemera. If you, reader, ever want to exchange postcards, I’m more than willing to do so!