It’s too large to discuss all the intricacies of a National Museum in one blog post, but I will try to highlight some of my favourite bits from this visit. Some of the galleries were closed off and due to reopen in July after refurbishment. In this visit I focused on a number of the galleries coming off the Grand Gallery, a beautiful oval shaped, light filled atrium. In this space you can look down from the balconies into the large foyer below or across at the wall of artistically installed collection.
Known as the Window on the World, the display of museum objects that decorate four stories of the Grand Gallery is the largest single museum installation in the UK and showcases over 800 objects from tiny shells to whale jaw bones. It’s a spectacular and diverse display, almost an art installation to museum collecting. It’s also interactive, but instead of pressing buttons you’re invited to lay your hand over handprints which trigger some of the objects behind the glass to start to move. I’ve no idea how this works, it must be some kind of sensor that detects touch, but this unknown makes it somewhat more magical.
The Discoveries Gallery is almost an extension of the Window to the World display. Protruding off the Grand Gallery it highlights the diversity of the collection, linking objects specifically to people and Scotland. Star objects that have been collected are placed centre stage, the images of the people associated with them appearing above and back-lit.
The Natural World Gallery is incredible. With one of the most impressive elements being the use of space. The space is made up of a ground floor and 2 balconies that look down onto this. The animals are not confined to the floor and balcony space, oh no, animals are also suspended from the ceiling, appearing to swim in the air and breaking down the boundaries between the floor and the ceiling. It is an excellent use of what would otherwise be dead space.
The World Cultures Gallery also has suspensions from the ceiling and a large totem pole spanning the gaps between the floor and balconies, although not on the scale seen in the Natural World Gallery. What is epically nice within these galleries is the colours used within the cases. Instead of the usual museum greys and beiges, objects are displayed against bright yellows and turquoises, which complement the colours of the objects themselves. I’m not a major fan of the use of smells in museums, it can go very chemical and make you feel a bit nauseous. However I really like the way smells of spices used for cooking were contained within cooking pots and pans, taking everyday objects and putting them in a really simple museum interactive.
One other item that I have not previously had the pleasure of seeing in action is the Millennium Clock. And what an utterly bizarre clock it is. Created to commemorate human suffering in the 20th century it features the figures of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, as well as Death riding a massive shiny pendulum. It chimes every hour, only it was running a little bit late . . . maybe on purpose to prolong the suffering? People gather and point out all the moving bits to the delight of their small children. Is it a dark contradiction that such suffering is bringing such joy? Who knows? But it’s worth a watch just for its quirkiness.