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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for August, 2012

Specimen of the Week: Week Forty-Six

Emma-LouiseNicholls28 August 2012

Scary MonkeyI think it is super to be a pacifist, to cause no harm to the people around you. But this life-strategy may make you an easy target for people on the ‘meaner side of the coin’, and we don’t want that. So how do you ensure a little longevity without kicking your morals to the curb? May I advise deception. There is no need to be aggressive if other people are afraid of you anyway, right? The animal kingdom is full of mimics whose full repertoire of naughtiness extends only as far as pretending to be hard. Be it the sounds, colours, and/or smells of animals with much meaner personalities or hardcore weaponry. One such mimic caught my attention in the Museum. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Russell Brand, The UCL Pathology Collections, and the Fickle Finger of Fame

SubhadraDas24 August 2012

In the run-up to being interviewed for the role of Curator of the UCL Pathology Collections, I picked up the first volume of Russell Brand’s biography (My Booky Wook, Hodder and Stoughton, 2007) for some light reading.

More fool me.Bedtime reading

Volunteer success

KrisztinaLackoi23 August 2012

August has been a great month for UCL Art Museum, with two of our volunteers securing prestigious internships. Susie Stirling (MA History of Art, UCL) has been volunteering with us for a year, working closely with artist Nadine Mahoney on her Portraits research project. Susie will go on to work at the White Cube Gallery in Shoreditch from September. Lucy Wheeler (MA History of Art, UCL) has been assisting with digitisation projects, research visits and classes, and will be taking up a paid internship at Jerwood Visual Arts in London, installing the latest Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition. A big thank you to Susie and Lucy for all their hard work, dedication and enthusiasm over the past year, congratulations, and best of luck for the future from the whole team!


The emergence of Empathy

EdmundConnolly21 August 2012

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”



Although I may be hedging my bets by opening my first ever blog post with a quotation, I consider it suitably apt for the topic of creating empathy within the museum space. I recently met Roman Krznaric (founder of the School of Life) who has created the Museum of Empathy model, a space which, rather than just educating its visitors, encourages them to empathise with the denoted culture. This may be a case of understanding the labour and wage paid to go into the cup of coffee you drink, to facing the cruelties of enduring a hurricane.

I must admit, at first I was not entirely sold on the idea, I failed to see why a museum needed to impose empathy on its visitors. Empathy is a very intimate, personal reaction, for a third party to dictate to me that I should be feeling empathy at a certain point in time jars painfully with all my British stiff upperlip-ness. For me, museums are places of education, beauty and self discovery, but it is precisely for these reasons that empathy is rendered so important a facet of the museum culture. Museums have become the medium of choice to discuss contemporary, community and even future issues that relate directly to the viewing public. They are no longer silent halls where times new roman boards dictate the meaning, dating or interpretation of objects; Museums are alive, changing and inspiring thought, but can they help one to empathise with the civilizations they define? (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Forty-Five

Emma-LouiseNicholls20 August 2012

Scary MonkeyWhilst looking for a sponge in the coral case, I came across something far more stupendous than both irritatingly-hard-to-tell-apart-at-times-I’m-not-really-an-idiot-I-swear-groups (ok I was having a dense moment). Although a few specimens of this species grace shelf two of case six (for when you are sure to pop in for some Specimen of the Week reconnaissance), this particular specimen is especially beautiful. You’ll think you know these animals well, but this specific genus exhibits a dollop of uniqueness, within the tentacled family tree. This week’s specimen of the week is.. (more…)

Guest post: Central Saint Martins at UCL Art Museum

KrisztinaLackoi15 August 2012

Guest post by Mary Evans, Central Saint Martins

artwork on wall consisting of nails hammered into symmetrical discs of waffle

Artwork inspired by the cross-hatching in Van Dyck’s etchings, (c) Mary Evans installation photograph


In the spring term 2011/2012 a group of second year Fine Art students from Central Saint Martins embarked on a research project at the UCL Art Museum. The project was part of the Expanding Practice unit which is designed to support and broaden students’ approaches to practice and resources for research, production, and reception of works of art. The whole second year cohort across all Fine Art pathways participates in projects in collaboration with other art institutions in London to give students the opportunity to work in new ways and develop new skills. The Guardian Archive, The Petrie Museum, Camden Arts Centre, The Wellcome Collection and UCL Art Museum among others were our collaborators this year.

Curator Andrea Fredericksen expressed what the UCL Art Museum collection had to offer our students thus:

What happens when you have a collection of 10,000 world renowned prints and drawings, dating from the 1490s to the present day, at your fingertips during the development of your artistic practice? Be inspired at UCL Art Museum – home of old master prints by Durer, Van Dyck and Turner as well as innovative works by Slade artists – where you can have hands-on access to this remarkable collection of old and modern treasures. UCL Art Museum invites you to revisit the past masters within their collection to create new work in response; to continue to develop your own practice using contemporary media and contemporary modes of thinking while taking time to consider and appreciate what has gone on before – all in the context of a traditional print room. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Forty-Four

Emma-LouiseNicholls13 August 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Forty-ThreeAnyone who has seen our recent exhibition It Came from the Stores would now know that past curators have accessioned some pretty strange stuff in to a museum whose banner quite clearly reads ‘zoology’. Maybe with this thought in mind, I was asked recently why we have hominid material in a zoology museum. The definition of zoology is ‘the scientific study of the behaviour, structure, physiology, classification, and distribution of animals’ and animal is described as ‘a living organism which feeds on organic matter, typically having specialized sense organs and nervous system and able to respond rapidly to stimuli’. The un-ticked box for ‘responds rapidly to stimuli’ on my medical would clearly indicate that I am therefore not an animal. However, most? other humans are and so yes, hominids do belong in a museum of zoology. One such specimen in the collection particularly struck me this week, metaphorically speaking, as it lacks enough limb bones to lash out, and I discovered that behind those empty eye sockets is a really interesting history. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Happy 129th Quagga Day – A new specimen?

JackAshby12 August 2012

129 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last quagga died. extinction in South Africa 1883 Plate CCCXVII in von Schreber, Die Saugethiere in Abildungen Nach der Natur (Erlangen, 1840-1855)

Since I was employed at the Grant Museum I have been looking for ways to celebrate what we call “Quagga Day”. Last year on the blog I described the lack of publicity that quaggas get and I heartily recommend you read what I said.

Also read it if you want to know more about what quaggas were, beyond the fact that they were a not-very-stripy-zebra. We never tire of telling people that we have the rarest skeleton in the world in the Grant Museum – and it is our quagga – but regular readers would probably tire of us explaining what they were and what we think about them.

This year we can celebrate in almost two ways:
1) Our quagga skeleton now has it’s very own website where you can learn all about it.

Almost 2) I thought I had discoverd a new specimen of quagga (which would rock the zoological world to its very core), but later discovered I hadn’t. Here’s what happened…


Guest blog: The mysterious American Travel Album

KrisztinaLackoi10 August 2012

Guest blog by Erin Schuppert, University of Boston and Intern, UCL Art Museum

I began my five-week internship at UCL Art Museum in the beginning of July and I have been busy ever since. I have assisted with a photography project, been introduced to collections care, done copyright research and been in contact with copyright holders, made preparations for researchers and a class, taken inventory, and performed other daily tasks. Despite this long list of experience I’ve gained here at UCL, I still had time to do some of my own research. It all started with the last day of photography, when in the back of the room, Krisztina opened the small corner cabinet and pulled a rather large box from the bottom, placing it on the table and informing me that the museum knows very little about this object.

We slowly opened the lid of the custom-made box and inside was large, brown and green leather-bound book entitled “Travel Album.” I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the inside of the tome, but it looked old and almost forgotten, and so, being hopelessly nostalgic, it intrigued me. Krisztina opened it up to one of the middle pages and I saw before me two sepia-toned images of Yosemite. I had recently travelled to Yosemite National Park in Northern California, so I recognized the landmarks shown in the pictures. I carefully flipped through the next few pages and saw Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Glacier Point. Then, just a few more yellowing pages after that, I saw an image of Palace Hotel in San Francisco… I stayed there only two years ago! It did of course look a bit different in the photograph, which I have dated roughly back to the 1890s, than it did when I saw it in 2010, but as soon as I read the inscription in the album and recognized it as the same Palace Hotel in which I had rested my head, I was instantly inspired to find out more about this object. (more…)

Paying the piper

RachaelSparks8 August 2012

The first objects in the Institute of Archaeology’s Collections came from British Mandate Palestine, donated by the famous Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie.

Petrie Exhibiting material from Tell Fara in London

What was an Egyptologist doing digging in Palestine? Pretending to his supporters that he was still working in Egypt, for one. Exhausted by his endless confrontations with the Egyptian authorities, Petrie took off for the region near modern-day Gaza at the sprightly age of 73. He told his supporters he was just going to work in ‘Egypt over the border’, and promptly spent the rest of his career doing just that. (more…)