Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

50 museums in 50 days

In Awards, Museums on April 14, 2015 at 9:28 am

I’ve just returned home from a trip around the globe – and I reached my goal of visiting 50 museums in 50 days. It was touch and go for a while, but like Phileas Fogg I just made it. Here’s my summing up of the trip (which is actually just me showing off) …

Best museum bar – Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, mostly for the view over the bridge and opera house.

Most jaw-dropping interior – the Alhambra. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so beautiful.

Finest collection – National Gallery of Australia is just packed with hit after hit. Such a shame that it’s locked away in Canberra where nobody goes (apart from civil servants and museum geeks.)

Tea room of the trip – not an easy category to judge. While the Museum of Australia and Hong Kong Maritime Museum both have a great views from their terraces, there’s no beating the splendid vista from the Getty Villa.

Best guided tour – Susannah Place Museum. Definitely take this tour if you’re in Sydney. Be sure to call in advance and book.

Surprise of the trip – Australians know how to do museums

Weirdest display – For years this would normally have been taken by the Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles), but perhaps the crying wooden statues next to the bed where St John of God died (Granada) were the most full on. Or the home butchery and blood-letting display at the folk museum in Seville. Or the Mars Attacks display in Hong Kong’s space museum. Hmm, tough one to call. I’ll just have to go again in search of more.

If you can deal with any more museological gloating, here’s the full list of 50 museums I visited. I hope it makes you jealous:

Sepulveda Block Museum, Los Angeles
América Tropical Interpretive Centre, Los Angeles
Avila Adobe, Los Angeles
Chinese American Museum, Los Angeles
Japanese American Museum, Los Angeles
LA Firefighting Museum, Los Angeles
Getty Villa, Malibu
Wende Museum, Culver City
Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Catalina Island Museum, Avalon
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
USS Hornet, San Francisco
SFO Airport Museum, San Francisco
Maritime Museum, Hong Kong
Art Central, Hong Kong
Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum, Hong Kong
Space Museum, Hong Kong
Museum of Art, Hong Kong
Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
Anzac Memorial Museum, Sydney
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Museum of Sydney, Sydney
Susannah Place Museum, Sydney
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney
Cockatoo Island, Sydney
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Canberra Museum and Gallery, Canberra
National Museum of Australia, Canberra
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
National Library of Australia, Canberra
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
National Film and Video Archive, Canberra
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Archives, Canberra
Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra
Immigration Museum, Melbourne
Melbourne Old Gaol, Melbourne
Melbourne Museum, Melbourne
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
Museo Reine Sofia, Madrid
XIII-Century House, Cordoba
Archaeological Museum, Seville
Museum of Popular Art and Folk Culture, Seville
Museo de la Real Maestranza de Caballera, Seville
General Archives of the Indies, Seville
The Chain House, Cadiz
Museo de San Juan de Deos, Granada
Alhambra, Granada

Right, back to the real world.


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


Exhibition of the Year 2012

In Awards, Museums on December 31, 2012 at 11:43 am

It’s time for the much coveted (actually not at all coveted) temporary exhibition of the year award.

I think it’s important that we take time to celebrate museums and exhibitions off the beaten track – the nationals and the large independent museums in the UK get the lion’s share of the funding and also the majority of the press attention. So it’s important to make sure that places which aren’t in the limelight as much get their fair share of the glory.

But that said, I’ve got to be honest when it comes to my favourite exhibitions of the last year and I’m afraid my top three were all large, expensive shows in national museums in London. What can you do?

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, National Gallery
The NG asked Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger (with The Royal Ballet) to respond to three Titian paintings – Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and the recently acquired Diana and Callisto – which depict stories from Ovid’s epic poem ‘Metamorphoses’. The three paintings, displayed in the middle of the exhibition space, were brought together on display for the first time since the 1700s.

It’s brave of the National to bring contemporary art to their audience, but it really worked as a project and as an exhibition piece.

Shakespeare: staging the world, British Museum
Much more than an exhibition about Shakespeare and much more than an exhibition about the world he lived in, this display brought together extracts from the texts we all know (and plenty we don’t!) with real objects of all shapes and sizes to create a seamless narrative. I left feeling like I understood Shakespeare’s London and his world much better.

Plus, like the NG they worked in collaboration with a performance art organisation – the Royal Shakespeare Company – to create some new interpretations of classic Shakespeare soliloquies. Great stuff.

Hollywood Costume, V&A
What a show-stopper. From the moment you walk in the door, it’s a visual treat.

I know it’s a bit cliché to like this exhibition as everyone is talking about it. But that’s because it’s just so brilliant.

I tend to get a bit tired in V&A exhibitions as they are often huge – and the last room tends to have some dresses in it, displayed in a glass box. Gone are the frocks. Gone are the display cases – and here are dozens – perhaps hundreds?? – of costumes from movies that we all know and love on open display.

The V&A have pushed the boat out interpretively as well – the exhibition has its own soundtrack and there are some impressive interpretive techniques that I will certainly be pinching to put in other exhibitions before very long.
I won’t give the whole game away as the exhibition is still open – until 27 January. Go see.

Happy New Year all.
Here’s to another year of great exhibitions in 2013 …

Museum of the Year 2012

In Awards on December 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

Now for my favourite annual award – the best museum I’ve visited for the first time in the preceding twelve months.

This year I travelled to the Dordogne region of France for a wedding and went to some of the prehistoric cave systems, with the paintings which have lasted for thousands – even tens of thousands of years. The durability of these paintings is astonishing, but I’m afraid the museums and guided tours there that we experienced are a bit shabby, so they won’t be making it into my final list.

Certainly the most eye-opening trip of the year – and possibly the decade – was our visit to North Korea in April. Again, is doesn’t seem like museology has reached Pyongyang as the few museums we visited weren’t up to much. But in the world’s most secretive state where they can’t afford to feed their people, I’ll let them off some poorly interpreted objects.
Instead, my three favourite museums this year are all chosen for the quality of the visit, as well as the museums themselves.

2012 Runner up:
The new Museum of Liverpool is a striking building, on the river and prominently displayed next to the city’s three graces.

In places this museum could be described as design over content – the interpretation of objects is much more obvious than the objects themselves – but that’s not to say it’s bad. Quite the opposite – they have created a multi-layered, multi-dimensional museum experience which is easy to access and understand. And it does was every local museum strive to do, yet rarely achieves – it celebrated its locality.

This is a truly scouse experience for a proud city and well worth a visit.

2012 winner:
My favourite museum this year is the Musee de la chasse et de la nature (the Museum of hunting and nature) in Paris.

Whether you’re a fan of blood sports or a card-carrying member of the anti-hunt lobby, there is something for you in this carefully curated and beautifully constructed installation museum in the heart of the Marais. Rather than simply telling a story of man’s interaction with nature and how he has killed plenty of things over the years, this museum takes a creative look at the interaction between animal and human. Taxidermy is displayed tastefully and humourously. Objects which may inflict pain are juxtaposed with modern art. And there’s a massive stuffed bear, which nobody can complain about.

Look out for the room of dogs, the owl room and the space devoted to hunting where the animals dominate and take precedence over the guns.

Very clever.

Comedy fake celebrity Tweeter of the year

In Awards on December 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

Of the 500 million registered users of twitter, about 400 million of them must be spoofs – people imitating famous celebrities and mocking them with caustic comedy in under 140 characters. There are fake Pippa Middletons, fake Barack Obamas and even fake Popes.

There are, of course, a lot to choose from, but here are my three favourites from this year.

@KatieWeasel has made this year’s X-Factor bearable to watch, in parts, thanks to her bitchy comments, imitating the exuberant and distinctive (and slightly bonkers) 2010 contestant Katie Waissel. And so we award her third place.

Two years ago, nobody had heard of the phrase ‘gin o’clock’, but thanks to second place @Queen_UK it’s now everywhere. The writer who parodies her  majesty has figured out not only how to write funny tweets, but also how to turn it into a business, having sold thousands of copies of his books detailing how HMQ really thinks.

But the top spot has to go to the irregular – but always hilarious – tweets of @desree_life who pokes fun at celebrities across the board using her own brand of scanning poetry, inspired by Des’ree’s 1998 song Life.

For example her tweet on the day the Leveson enquiry report was released:

“It has been quite a long wait.
Now we’ll learn the media’s fate.
Will they still self regulate?
Just like Warren G and Nate”

NB: it’s not all clean, so watch out.

More awards to come on Christmas Day …

YouTube video of the year

In Awards on December 19, 2012 at 11:30 am

It’s the time of year when awards abound – mostly just for money-making opportunities and a chance to wear a rented tuxedo. Once again, I shall be celebrating the end of the year with a spectacular and glamorous ceremony at which my annual awards will be offered up to the nation.

And for the first instalment, I will be awarding Youtube video of the year.

You might expect PSY’s Gangnam Style or one of its many parodies to make an appearance in the line up, and quite rightly no award for Internet videos this year can be complete without mentioning it, but the judges felt that it has had quite enough exposure, thank you, and will be overlooked in the final placing.

In third place comes the viral sensation captured of Kim Wilde singing on a train on her way home from a Christmas party. She’s had a drink a two, but she can still sing Kids in America to people on the train.

The next award goes to American TV cook Paula Deen. This video of her deepfrying a piece of cheesecake has been online for a while, but I only came across it this year. Not entirely sure how she can get away with this, but it does look amazing. Keep an eye out for the ‘vegetable’ she adds at the end.

First place goes to my absolute favourite of the year when Australian PM Julia Gillard fell over on a visit to India. I wish her no harm – in fact I quite respect her – but this is just hilarious and I can watch her face-planting repeatedly without stopping laughing.

More awards to come…

Art Fund Prize long list announced

In Awards, Museums on February 8, 2012 at 11:22 am

It that time of year again when everyone awards themselve a prize! From the Oscars to the museum community.

The longlist for the 2012 Art Fund Prize has been announced – ten museums and galleries from across Britain which are all up for a prize of £100,000.

Bletchley Park – for their exhibition on Alan Turing
The Hepworth Wakefield – a brand new museum designed by David Chipperfield
The Holbourne Museum – a new extension on the back of this beautiful museum in Bath. Isaw it in September and loved it.
MShed – a new museum in Bristol. I ran a training day for the text writers on this project.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery – recently reopened after a major redevelopment – looking great.
National Museum of Scotland – ditto.
Riverside Museum – I visited this new museum last year and was more impressed with the building than the collection.
Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery – not been down for a nosy at this project, but would love to go see it. I hear it’s fab.
Turner Contemporary – a wonderful new gallery (also by Chipperfield) to which I am set to make a repeat visit.
Watts Gallery – another multimillion pound refurb. Must go see it.

I’m not sure what exactly the judges are looking for this year – the judges change each year so it’s hard to compare one winner with another. But my bets are on for one of the new art galleries designed by Chipperfield – either the Turner Contemporary or the Hepworth Wakefield.

You can vote for your favourite project by going to the Art Fund website and choosing one of the ten.

Let’s wait and see who makes the short list …

International Museum of the Year 2011

In Awards, Museums on December 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

While I might like to pretend that this instalment of my annual awards serves to highlight some museums you may want to look out for when on your travels, it is actually invented purely to allow me to show off where I’ve been on holiday in the last 12 months.

There were two runners up…

KGB Museum, Vilnius (Lithuania)
Housed in the former home of the KGB in Lithuania, this building has an ominous presence in the centre of Vilnius. The displays present a balanced (well, as balanced as you can get in a country occupied so many times) view of the nation’s experience of the Second World War and the political aftermath for eastern Europe. And the text is in English, which is great! There are some great objects from the Soviet era.

But perhaps most impressive – and certainly most chilling – are the basement cells where inmates were imprisoned, tortured and executed. If you’ve been to the House of Terror in Budapest, this is the next on the list for you.

Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Minsk (Belarus)
Minsk itself is a new experience for many people in so many ways – a Stalinist ideal of what a city looks like. Minsk has been described by various people as ‘where communist architecture works’ and you get a sense of this walking around the city. And this museum is no exception.

Inside the interpretation is all in Russian or Belorussian, so the interpretive layering of information was almost lost on me. But with some basic knowledge we managed to find our way around pretty well. There are some rather exciting dioramas and some great set pieces. Perhaps my favourite part is the orange stained glass window in – pure socialist-realist iconography at work.
It’s a little confusing, but well worth visiting if you’re in the city.

And when you’re done, get a hot (or boozy) drink at Моя английская бабушка (My English Granny) nearby, opposite the British Embassy.

And the winner is

Neues Museum, Berlin (Germany)
Wow, just wow.

I’ve seen some museum buildings in my time, and I’ve visited plenty of cultural institutions which have had architectural interventions breathe life into them (think British Museum, Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Royal Academy) but the renovations to the Neues Museum really are enormously impressive. I’m a good 6ft2in, but I felt utterly swamped by this building – like a tiny ant crawling up the side of a rock.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone who’s thinking of visiting, but the structural interventions into this historic building have been done with care and sensitivity. And the way the building has been thought out makes the objects it contains make sense.
I was working on a project about Amarna Egypt at the time I visited in October 2011, so I was pleased to see the objects relating to that period, but surely the star of the show has to be Nefertiti herself, presiding over a whole wing of the museum on one of the upper floors.

We didn’t really have enough time when we visited, so I’d say allow a good couple of hours if you want to take in both the amazing building and the world-class collection of Egyptian, classical antiquities and prehistoric German material.

Next year’s award in this category is likely to be even more exotic as I’ve just booked an incredibly exciting and geeky holiday, which makes our trip to Lithuania and Belarus look like a weekend in the Cotswolds! Come back in December 2012 for an update.

Provincial Town of the Year 2011

In Awards, Museums on December 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This year has seen me galloping around the UK rather a lot for work. It’s been great fun to see so many places and to meet people working in museums up and down the country.

That said I’ve stood on many cold platforms, endured lonely nights in strange hotels and eaten quite a few sorry meals on my own. Spending time in a British provincial town solo is a good way to try and understand a place – to figure out what makes it tick and to see if it’s the kind of place I’d want to live ever. I have to say, there are very few that are looking to beat London, even if there are a lot of museums around the place.

So I thought that as part of my annual awards I ought to create a new category for Provincial Town of the Year.
Here’s the short list of where I went (and what I was doing there):

Margate – to see the new Turner Contemporary
Hmmm, people say there’s a renaissance happening in Margate. They’ve got a great new art gallery and some lovely tea rooms, but I think I’ll wait and see on this one. (They are planning a rollercoaster museum, however, so let’s watch this one with interest!)

Oxford – to work on a multimedia guide for The Ashmolean
I always enjoy a trip to Oxford and feel I now know if well enough to hang out there at night as well as during the day. But not sure I could live there full time.

Petworth – to work on a multimedia guide of Petworth House
This is charming little village in West Sussex, dominated by the massive National Trust property and overrun with antique shops. It’s cute, but it’s far too small for me. (And I suspect property prices aren’t far off London!)

Glasgow – to see the new Riverside Museum
The museum itself (designed by Zaha Hadid) on the banks of the river is an architectural triumph and a great visitor attraction to the area. It’s rather out of town, so it won’t add that much to the regeneration of the city, but we had time to jet into the centre to see the much-heralded Kelvingrove Museum. And to sample some fab Scottish food!

Cambridge – to chair focus groups for a piece of research
If I were an American I’d say Cambridge felt cuter and OLD-er than Oxford, and certainly has more charm. But it’s perhaps lacking the pace and city attitude that Oxford has. The Fitzwilliam Museum is a pretty fab museum though – like a mini-British Museum.

Manchester – to interview the public about the First World War
This is where I grew up, so am likely to always hold a soft spot for Manchester. This is perhaps the only place on the list where I’d move tomorrow. I visited this year in the sunny September heat wave so was thoroughly entertained by the Mancunians, who weren’t entirely sure what the large yellow thing in the sky was!

Bristol – to see the new MShed
I’ve been to Bristol a few times over the last five years or so and find I like it more and more. There’s certainly a very vibrant cultural life there. But is it just too far away from London, perhaps?

Bath – to see museums and eat lovely food
I can’t believe I’d not been to Bath before. If you’ve not been, it’s a cute as you think it is. And then some. Great museums and great food. My top tip would be to take the tour of the freemasons’ hall – it’s a great space and well worth spending a few hours having a nosy around. And the Holbourne Museum is definitely worth the trip.

Edinburgh – to work on a multimedia guide for National Mining Museum Scotland
I went a few times to Edinburgh for work this year. Alas, I was on the outskirts of town which, charming as they are, aren’t quite comparable to the centre of town. I think I’m due a trip back there for the festival in 2012, Olympics permitting.

Belfast – to see the great museums there and visit the site of the new Titanic Museum
It was great to get back to Northern Ireland this year and to get under the skin of Belfast. It’s a city which has had its (un)fair share of troubles over the last 40 years, but it’s still a hugely welcoming place. Some people forget that NI is part of the same landmass as the rest of Ireland and that it’s simply beautiful. The developments on the docks are set to revitalise the city even further and I can see some more trips back there coming soon.

And the winner is …

I visited a few times to work with the team building The Novium, a new museum due to open in Chichester in 2012.
It’s just such a cute town. There isn’t a whole load of things to do, but as a town (sorry, city) it all seems to work rather well, sitting together in a very happy medium.

Working on the museum content I got to learn plenty about the history of the place. And I also sat in on choral evensong in Chichester Cathedral, which is well worth it if you’re in town.

Where have you been to in the provinces in 2011? Any good tips?

Sandwich of the Year 2011

In Awards on December 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

2011 has been another year of travelling around the country for me, mostly with the intention of visiting museums, of course. As a freelancer on the go, I find I eat a lot of sandwiches, so for the third instalment of my annual awards, I’ve chosen my favourite three.

First runner up goes to the Marks & Spencer (the staple of any train-reliant freelancer) Roast beef and horseradish sandwich which has long been a favourite comfort food of mine, especially if you’ve had a hard day and all you want is a hug in a sandwich.

Second prize goes to the cafe of the Ulster Museum, Belfast who have a charming new cafe in their redeveloped museum. After marching around their fabulous displays you need to stop for soup and a sandwich which is served in traditionally Irish generous portions.

But first prize goes to the cafe bar of the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol. This place reminds me of the kind of place I like to find if I’m visiting Europe – it has that special the kind of laid back and arty environment that we don’t tend to do that well in the UK. Sip a glass of wine with their tasty fresh sarnies (and many other things beside) and be sure to try the polenta chips. And when you’re done, go look at the art or one of the other world-class museums within a few minutes.

Lunch. Museum. Done.