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News and musings from the UCL M&C team


Now – what’s the first exhibition you think of?

By Celine West, on 1 March 2013

I was recently interviewing people for jobs here and one of the questions we asked was “Have you seen any exhibitions recently that really impressed you?” and I thought some of you might be interested to hear what kind of answers we received.

Obviously, we had those people who were extra keen to impress us who answered “the Octagon gallery at UCL”. Maybe that wasn’t their intention, but it couldn’t help coming across that way. Anyway, people liked this because of its design and the mixture of arts and science topics. They also liked its convenient location, which was possibly a more revealing answer than they realised.

UCL Octagon Gallery, Edmund Sumner

UCL Octagon Gallery, Edmund Sumner

Another popular answer was our neighbours at The Wellcome Collection, with several people describing their experience of Death: A self-portrait People liked the variety of objects and the fact that many different cultures were represented, they spoke about a controversial subject sensitively handled, however some wished it had been more interactive. One person felt there was simply too much in the exhibition (my notes say “museum fatigue”).

The Museum of London exhibition on Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men  was described as being good on details but less so on the big picture, though this visitor felt they were taken through the whole process and introduced to social as well as practical problems.

The Natural History Museum was the most popular institution of all. The exhibition Animals Inside Out was chosen because it explained a lot and raised the question “what do I have in common with this animal?” This was one of the few exhibitions mentioned that closed nearly 6 months ago, which could be an indication of how (un)interested in visiting museums that person was, or an indication of thoughtful judgement – choosing the best not necessarily the most recent. People talked about the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which was great because one of the panel has a special interest in that one (not to mention a hilarious stand-up comedy set about it). Another NHM exhibition was chosen by someone else, however from the notes the interview panel made I haven’t been able to find out what it was; we scribbled down that it was something about fossils and evolutionary history…in that institution, not so much to go on.

One candidate chose an exhibition of works of art seen through scientific imaging techniques, at MNAC, the National Art Museum in Barcelona. The combination of paintings and x-rays of them was exciting for the person telling us about it, and it was a good example of how to mix science and art, something we were looking for in the interviews overall. They said it would have been even better with scientists there talking about it, also a good thing to hear as we’re always interested in public engagement.

The Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at Tate Britain was popular, with one interviewee starting out by saying they’re a big fan so they were predetermined to like it, but maybe also be overly-critical. They thought the Tate had done a good job on interpretation, making it thematic and writing accessible labels.

And what about me? Asking this question a dozen times naturally made me think about my own answer. The most recent exhibition I saw was Daydreams and Diaries: the story of Jacqueline Wilson which I went to as it was what was on at my local museum that day. Everyone in our group of visitors was either too young or too old to have read any of her books, though the olds had at least heard of her. It was fun and surprising, made up of several sets to explore, like the author’s childhood bedroom, as well as letters and lots and lots of great illustrations on display. There was dressing up and designing your own tattoo, which may well be a first in the world of museum education activities.

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