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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


A Review, of sorts, of Treasures at the Natural History Museum

Jack Ashby24 January 2013

Treasures is the new permanent exhibition at the Natural History Museum (NHM) which “displays 22 of the most extraordinary specimens that have ever been on show at the Museum”. I’d been excited about it since I first heard about it a couple of years ago.

As we all know, the best side of most museums isn’t the one that faces the public, and that is definitely true of the NHM, which for obvious reasons can’t display all 70 million objects in its care, or indeed all of the brilliant scientific research it undertakes. I’ve been critical before of the NHM missing opportunities to display real objects in its exhibitions, and so a gallery dedicated to showing what everyone actually comes to museums to see is exactly what I want them to be doing.

Being lucky enough to do the job I do means that I’m privileged in knowing quite a lot about what the NHM has behind the scenes. Before visiting, I made a list of what I thought the NHM’s treasures are, and ticked it off as I went around: (more…)

So when is natural history art?

Jack Ashby19 September 2012

Bisected chimp head

Very obviously science.

Before I start, just to be clear, I’m not one of those scientists who hates art, or is snobbish about the semi-defined/awe-and-wonder/expressive/cheeky-subversion/I-don’t-care-if-the-viewer-doesn’t-understand kind of thing that some artists get up to. Not at all. I think it’s great. In fact, I work hard to incorporate a lot of art into programmes at the Grant Museum.

Over the last couple of weeks two of the city’s biggest block-busters finished – Animal Inside Out at the Natural History Museum and Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern. They were both excellent.

Much has been written about the cross-over between art and natural history, particularly when traditional scientific museum practices are replicated in art. What makes one art and one science?
The obvious answers relate to the intentions of the artist and the interpretations of the viewer. (more…)

Fake-umentary? BBC and Frozen World

Mark Carnall15 December 2011

Another quick post, many of you may have seen the news coverage about a sequence showing polar bear cubs in the BBC’s excellent Frozen Planet documentary that was filmed in a zoo, not in the wild. The footage has been called out as being misleading and the authenticity of some snow has also been called into question. It’s hard to pick out whether this is grabbing media attention because the Beeb has its fair share of enemies in the press or whether viewers are genuinely outraged. The BBC has posted this video showing BBC bosses defending the sequence. The Telegraph has this to say about it, posted here for balance. (more…)

Review (of sorts): Sexual Nature at the Natural History Museum

Mark Carnall14 February 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day. Last week, Jack Ashby the Learning and Access Manager at the Grant Museum and I were invited along to one of the private views of the Natural History Museum’s latest temporary exhibitions, Sexual Nature. Private views are a funny thing in museums – they may be a practice borrowed from commercial art galleries or perhaps a practice carried over from classier times when everyone who worked in a museum had to wear top hats. Generally though they are a good event to get together with colleagues, drink some wine, eat some canapés if you are lucky, and very occasionally actually go and see the exhibition that is being launched.  Here’s what we thought of Sexual Nature:

FULL DISCLOSURE: We are pleased to continually work with colleagues from almost every part of the Natural History Museum, either sharing skills and skulls informally, or more formally through big public events and programmes. It is no lie that walking through the main hall for an early meeting before they open is a genuine thrill. There are only four museums with natural history collections in London and we stick together. Many of the curators at the museum are doing astonishing work, truly on the cutting edge of museum practice. However, that being said there is occasionally some resentment from small museums when large institutions get the lion’s share of attention. (more…)