Exhibition of the Year

In Awards, Museums on December 15, 2010 at 9:48 am

What has been your favourite museum/gallery exhibition of 2010? Here are my top four…

Runners up:

Henry Moore (Tate Britain, London) – This beautiful show brought together a huge range of Moore’s work into one space – not an easy task when there are some enormous sculptures needing to be displayed alongside incredibly detailed drawings. But I hugely appreciated the sensitive juxtaposition of both large and small sculpted objects along with his moving drawings of the lives of miners and people living in the London Underground in the Second World War. The display even persuaded me to invest in the catalogue, which is almost unheard of.

The Science of Painting (National Gallery, London) – This exhibition was a real diversion for the gallery in terms of their temporary displays. It unpacked the conservation stories behind some of the paintings in the Gallery in an engaging way, explaining complex terminology and really making visitors look at the pictures. The lively and well-structured interpretation meant that viewing the exhibition was effortless and I even saw someone using the printed glossary leaflet next door in the NPG to look up an art term she didn’t understand in one of their labels! It’s a shame there’s no online legacy for the project. Nothing, not even a page on their website for me to direct you to. They lose out.

Haus der Musik (Vienna) – This interactive exploration of the nature of sound – with lots of toys and musical interactive to play with – is followed by an explanation of Vienna’s significance in the history of Western music. The culmination is a chance to get up on the rostrum and conduct the Vienna Phil!

And the winner is…

Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes (V&A, London) – There was a good chance I was always going to love this exhibition. I remember getting excited about seeing it when it was first announced a few years ago. But because I’m interested in the subject matter it did make me somewhat nervous going in. Would it be the same as all the other V&A exhibitions? (I like them, but I rarely rave about them.) Would it match my expectations?

Wow, it did. And more. It’s a really well-told story about the development of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes project. Although not that many objects belonging to him remain, the V&A have managed to bring out some of the back story of the man – his personality, his foibles, his peculiarities.

While the exhibition does tend to stick to the V&A’s usual interpretive format of ‘storytelling –> pretty dresses –> storytelling –> pretty dresses’ (I’ve ranted before about how I’d prefer to see costume and fashion used as storytelling devices, rather than illustrative of the point they’re trying to make) it manages to present a strong and – I think – captivating story through art, posters, design, personal belongings and fashion. I finished each section with the same question – what happened next?!

The star of the show – and indeed the year, for me – was the ‘staging’ of the V&A’s largest object in a dramatic audio-visual presentation (by Newangle). That has to be one of the finest combination of sound and images I’ve seen in 2010. I won’t ruin the surprise, but do go and see it.

You’ll have to hurry though as the exhibition closes on 9 January.

The newly inaugurated Interpretive Catastrophe of the Year award goes to RMS Titanic Inc. They clearly have some great objects in their ‘collection’ and they’ve put on a very showy display at the O2, but they completely forgot to tell a story in their exhibition about the ship. Boo – that’s £15 I won’t get back.

Other awards already announced this year are:

iPhone app of the Year
Museum object of the Year
London terminus of the Year

More to follow before Christmas…


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