Celts Exhibition, National Museum of Scotland

Organised in partnership with the British Museum, the Celts exhibition was first on display in London before moving up to Edinburgh. It investigates the idea of a shared Celtic heritage across ancient Europe and how modern interpretations of ‘Celts’ have been revived, reimagined and in some cases reinvented over time. Due to the ‘no photography’ rule, of which I’m really not a fan, I’m just going to have to use such incredible description that you feel like you’ve seen it with your own eyeballs.

The exhibition space is divided into five sections, there was actually a handy map explaining this but since this was on the wall behind you when you entered, I presume it was missed by many who don’t look over their shoulder. However, even if the map was missed the divides are cleverly signposted by the changes in colour scheme from section to section.

I was intrigued by the way the galleries were physically divided. Some used standard temporary exhibition walling, presumably such walls could be reused for the next exhibition. But there was also a clever used of coloured fabric screens, hanging from the ceiling and weighted to the ground. Being fabric the surfaces could be printed on, but they were also used to create curving, slightly transparent walls. It was a good way to give the spaces of the exhibition curved walls, rather than just standard square rooms and it created a nice flow.

The first gallery you enter is a rich purple, introducing the theme ‘Who were the Celts’. In the middle a well-lit sandstone statue of a man with a broken solar disk over his head, a furrowed brow and stern straight mouth, taller than life and imposing. A projection behind introduces a running timescale and objects, with accompanying sounds of either an eerie wind or drum beats. This video was well placed, a formal introduction video could have caused a bottle neck of people at this point, but instead it allowed people to investigate the space with an occasional glance at the backing video before moving on.

The rich red section looking at the ideas of the ‘Connections between Europe from 450-150BC’ came next. Between object cases the gallery also had a film with seating. There were other stylish screen interactives, angled at the perfect height of wheelchair uses, bifocal wearers and people standing, the audio available on phones attached to them. Such screens with their individual phones meant that there was no clashes in audio in the gallery, but only one person could listen to the screens at once, or had to read the captions on the videos over another shoulder. Central in the room of this section, but slightly angled, is a chariot. The angling emphasised its impressive size – it was much larger than I remember it being in the British Museum display, but this may be because here you walk along its length rather than being introduced to it almost side on.

The torcs in this gallery were also displayed differently, although it just as effective a manner. In the British Museum each torc had a wire mount from the base of the case to display them almost hovering. Here the torcs rested on angled backboards, contrasting beautifully with the rich red of the fabric and also solving the issue of having different levels of interest within a case.

The use of fabric walls to create a rounded room to mirror the shape of the Gundestrup cauldron was very successful. Being displayed centrally and alone on a lowered plinth, people could see both around and inside it. Having the interpretation panels on the rounded fabric walls around allowed for a constant flow around the object.

I wasn’t a fan of the next colour chosen for the ‘Impact of Rome 200BC – AD250’ section, a really light mint green. This said, the contrast of the colour still worked well to display the objects. There was a quick change to the next theme, ‘A New Christian World AD250 – 1000′ represented by a dark blue-grey. A second film with seating was almost between these two galleries, far enough away from the first to avoid any sound bleed between the two. Finally the last gallery ‘Rediscover and Revival AD1500 – today’, where a sandy background colour and gaudy orange text panels were the chosen colours, which just seemed a bit out of place. With a final video entitled ‘Celts?’ interviewing multiple individuals, specialist and curators, the concepts behind meanings of the word ‘Celts’ was discussed. Although it may have created more questions than it answered, it left me thoughtful.

Although cases were often placed centrally in the room giving the visitor the illusion of a choice of direction, there was a definite flow for the exhibition, with a clear entrance and exit route. Such a design ensured that you came across all of the objects on display, which is important in a paid exhibition as you want a visitor to take away as much as possible from the experience. There was also a nod to those visiting with children, youngsters were given a cartoon board to look out for with related questions for them to answer. It wasn’t a life changing or innovative idea, but I’m sure it was a relief for some visiting parents, buying them extra time to take in the exhibition.

If you want a behind the scenes insight of the Celts exhibition take a look at the one created by the British Museum, where curators introduce some of the key objects and themes.



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