Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

Another Review of the Year

In Awards, Museums on December 31, 2013 at 1:30 pm

It’s that time in the annual cycle when everything that happened in the preceding year gets reviewed, recapped and summarised into short, pithy pieces of media for us to consume quickly.

The museum and heritage industry is just the same. We love awarding presenting awards, putting up celebratory plaques and looking back at what was the ‘best’ of the last 12 months.

So, I teamed up with Joe Deeney (author of the blog The National Museum of Joe) to review what we think worked well – and not so well – in museums in 2013.  We got together and chatted through our favourite museums, exhibitions, objects and toilets of the last twelve months. And we made it into a little video (click on the pic)  …

joe deeney and steve slack



Museum advent calendar

In Museums, Uncategorized on December 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Today is Christmas Eve. Throughout December I’ve been adding objects from museums around the world to my #museumxmas advent calendar on twitter. I thought I’d pull them all together into one place here.

Happy Christmas!

1 Dec: In 1843, Henry Cole, director of V&A sent the world’s first Christmas card
2 Dec: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! A piece of snowflake obsidian from the National Museum of Scotland
3 Dec: The Adoration of the Magi by Mantegna from the Getty Museum, CA
4 Dec: Christmas decorations from Mexico and Russia at the Horniman Museum, London
5 Dec: 1950s Christmas card from a Liverpool sweet factory from the Museum of Liverpool
6 Dec: An awesome, if slightly terrifying, C19th bauble from Brooklyn Museum, NY
7 Dec: Japanese snow scenes by Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Hokusai (1760-1849) from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
8 Dec: Feliz Navidad! A 1969 photo of Christmas at the Plaza Mayor, from the Reina Sofia, Madrid
9 Dec: The reindeer are getting ready for their massive delivery round. Here’s a 13000-year-old one from the British Museum, London
10 Dec: Some festive objects from the U.S.S.R. from the Wende Museum, CA
11 Dec: David Shrigley is definitely not scared of Santa. Or so he says in this 1996 artwork in Tate, London
12 Dec: A festive photo from the National Railway Museum, York
13 Dec: A beautiful, if expensive bauble from London Transport Museum
14 Dec: Front cover of 1995 xmas NME, strangely in Seattle Art Museum, WA
15 Dec: Christmas Day 1916. British officers enjoy turkey and champagne in a mess tent. Photograph from Imperial War Museum, London
16 Dec: Christmas cake decoration (Santa drove a car!?) from Te Papa, New Zealand
17 Dec: ‘The Santa Klaus Murder’ a novel in which Santa gets murdered! Available from the British Library shop
18 Dec: Do you have as many Christmas cards as this chap from 1960s Hong Kong from the Ashmolean, Oxford
19 Dec: A 1837 snowy scene from St Alban’s Museum, Herts
20 Dec: The Spruce Bark Beetle eats Christmas trees! Make sure you haven’t got one on yours by checking in at the Natural History Museum, London
21 Dec: A charming xmas card from 1903, showing that little boys and girls have never really got on from Castle Drogo, Devon
22 Dec: Tree-shaped Spode ceramics for Christmas from the Spode Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
23 Dec: The Reverend Christmas Evans 1766-1838 (what a wonderful name) immortalised in pottery at the Wedgwood Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
24 Dec: The famous Met Christmas Tree, complete with nativity scene tree from the Metropolitan Museum, NY

. c/o @Wedgwood_Museum #museumxmas
To conclude the #museumxmas advent calendar,  Merry Christmas!

Memorials of revolution

In Museums on December 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm

This year I went on holiday to Romania (May) and Portugal (December). They are on the opposite sides of Europe, but have much in common. They both have long a proud histories; they have both faced economic hardship in recent years and, strangely, although their languages are completely different, to a non-native speaker they sound rather similar.

Both countries have also had revolutions in recent years, both of which involved the removal of modern dictators.

Romania’s removal from power of Nicolae Ceausescu, his speedy trial, and his assassination in the forest on Christmas Day 1989, was seen as a turning point for the country and for other countries in the region which had for decades been under Soviet influence. Romania joined the EU recently and from 2014 its citizens will be able to move freely in the UK – it’s amazing to think how quickly the moment of revolution managed to affect the lives of millions there. Yet they are keen to move on from their past and embrace a modern, European way of life (much like some in nearby Ukraine, who are a few steps behind them – and possibly a tourism destination for me next year.)

On the other side of Europe, fifteen years earlier, Portuguese armed forces removed Marcello Caetano from power in an almost bloodless coup. He was sent into exile in south America, never to be heard from again, while at home Portugal formed a new constitution and held legal elections for the first time in decades. General Spinola was seen as a hero for restoring democracy to Portugal and giving it the tools it needed to transform itself into a modern country. A few years later and Portugal is a key player in the EU – Jose Manuel Barosso is President of the European Commission and Portuguese footballers are famous around the globe.

As a tourist, and someone interested in museums, memory and material culture, I was interested to see how these two countries chose to remember the moment of revolution. Each of them have a building and a memorial associated with a specific time and place.

damselinredressIn Bucharest the striking ‘Memorial to the Victims’ sits in front of the former Central Committee of the Communist Party – the balcony from which Ceausescu gave his final speech and a place known as the epicentre of his megalomania. It’s a gaudy, yet poignant, reminder of the suffering of the Romanian people under his rule.

Meanwhile in Lisbon the building in which Caetano was arrested and removed from power – a military barracks where he was taking refuge – is marked by a simple, round stone in the floor, commemorating the efforts of those who overthrew him. Nothing fancy or showy – just a stone.


The Romanians I spoke with told me they want to move on emotionally from that period of history. Yet they maintain a memorial in a prominent spot, continually reminding them of their painful past. While the Portuguese, who are intensely proud of the freedoms they now enjoy, memorialise their moment of revolution with a simple plaque.

But history is rarely straightforward, and memorialisation even less so.

Lisbon image: thanks, with CCL, to Joe Mabel on flickr.