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Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Museums of Lithuania and Belarus

In Museums on March 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

I’m just back from a brilliant trip to eastern Europe, taking in Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania and Minsk in Belarus. And of course we took in loads of museums whilst there.

Vilnius is really very charming and well worth a city-break. After the fall of Communism in the early 90s the country invested huge amounts of money in revamping the Vilnius old town, so there are many beautifully polished buildings. Yet, behind the facade of the charming squares and narrow old streets there are still many un-polished areas, which I perhaps find even more charming.

The KGB Museum (known locally as the Museum of Genocide Victims) is well worth a visit, with a sensitive and well-presented story of the operation of the Soviet-run state security system in Lithuania. The cells in the basement are chilling and horrific. The National Museum of Lithuania is housed in a very grand and well-restored building and the presentation is excellent, but the quality of the collection perhaps lets it down somewhat. I still enjoyed it though – especially the room full of maps. I love a map.
In Lithuania’s second city, Kaunas, we visited the Devil Museum. No really. It’s a collection started by artist A. Žmuidzinavičius celebrating the many forms the devil takes – by that they mean THE devil, but also devils and little demons, which are popular in Lithuanian folk culture. Following the collection’s donating to the nation on his death, the museum has continued to collect devils from around the world and now has over 2000. It’s actually incredibly well displayed in a charming 1970s concrete building, next door to his old house, where visitors can nosy around his studio.

And then for the big one – over the border to Belarus. People did tend to ask us ‘why have you come to Belarus?’ I’ve always had an interest in eastern European history, especially the former Soviet states. That’s why I enjoyed working at the Wende Museum a few years ago.

Minsk itself is a strange, confusing, yet wonderful place. Essentially entirely rebuilt in the aftermath of the Second World War, it seeks to combine the grand boulevards of Paris with the grandeur of Budapest and the opulence of Vienna. The neo-classical buildings look, from a distance, like the British Museum or the Louvre, but get up close and you realise that they’re built from breeze blocks and the proportions are, in fact, ever so slightly out. Also, take a walk around the back of some of these grand buildings and it’s clear that they’re only normally a few rooms thick. It’s all show. Then there’s the street art – grand mosaics, sculptures, reliefs and seemingly endless plaques on the wall, all showcasing the finest in Soviet socialist-realist art.

The Museum of History and Culture is small, but has some great objects. While the interpretation might leave something to be desired, the effort and will among the staff is certainly there. The Museum of the Great Patriotic War (also known as the Second World War) is a massive exposition of the story of the Eastern Front over two floors of this huge museum. It’s entirely in Russian, but we still managed to spend an hour in there. If you’ve got a reasonably good idea of the history of the conflict, you should be okay.

The National Art Museum of Belarus has an amazing new extension to the rear, full of light and beautiful pieces of local art (we dwelled in the 20th-century galleries, obviously) and is much better than the Modern Art Museum, which doesn’t even make it into the guidebooks.

And to top it all off, we even went to the new building of the National Library of Belarus which is just mind-blowing (below).

All in all a bizarre, yet fascinating, trip.

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New courtyard for V&A

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on March 28, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Yesterday the Victoria & Albert Museum announced who is going to design the new courtyard they are planning to build. Amanda Levete Architects are the successful studio. It’s going to be a great, iconic space for the V&A – along Exhibition Road – that will also bring together many of the disparate areas of the museum. Being down in the bowels of the building can sometimes be a little confusing, and this will make it all make sense.

The project also includes the construction of a new dedicated temporary exhibition centre underneath the courtyard, which is even more good news for visitors – if you’ve been to a show there recently, you’ll know that it can get a little confusing dipping in and out of that corridor half way through the exhibition space.

There’s an article about all of this and the V&A’s FuturePlan project live now on Museum [Insider].

Is 2012 really only about sport?

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on March 11, 2011 at 11:43 am

Are you more excited about the Olympics or the royal wedding?

Everyone’s talking about 2012. The schedule has been announced for the Olympic Games and the news on TV seems to be giving us almost daily updates on progress at the site in east London. It’s almost as if we’re wishing the rest of 2011 away, in favour of a year of sport.

The museum world is tapping into this sporting enthusiasm too, of course. There are exhibitions and events planned across the country next year celebrating local sporting heroes, Olympians and our nation’s proud sporting heritage.

But I’ve spotted that for museum 2012 isn’t necessarily all about the rackets, balls and running shoes.

It’s interesting to note that museums are getting behind the theme of the monarchy as inspiration for exhibitions and development projects.

The National Maritime Museum and British Library are hosting exhibitions on a royal theme. Kensington Palace will be telling stories about Queen Victoria and the Tower of London is undergoing a redisplay of the Crown Jewels. The National Portrait Gallery has a touring exhibition and the Royal Pavillion at Brighton is hosting some regal outfits for a temporary display.

So while international visitors are gawping at sport on the track and field, they can also take in a little of this nation’s USP – the monarchy.

Another refurb for Torre Abbey

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on March 10, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Did you know the seaside resort of Torquay gets its name from a 12th-century monastic institution? Torre Abbey is over 800 years old – and do they know it. Hot on the heels of a refurbishment project there a few years ago, they are now planning another huge investment in the site.

They’re about to make some renovations to the physical structure of the site and overhaul the learning and exhibition spaces. It’s a long-haul project, taking until probably 2015. But the great news is that they don’t have to close the entire site while they do the works.

There’s more information about the site and the refurbishment in an article on Museum [Insider].