Posts Tagged 'exhibition'

Tyrrell educational displays

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These are almost the first things in the Tyrrell once you have made it past the opening tyrannosaurs, and it’s a great set-up for the main exhibitions. Obviously kids will want to run through and see the skeletons, but from the educator’s point of view, you do want to maximise their enjoyment and appreciation of the material, and well, if you can get them to learn something too that’s obviously a bonus. In this case these two stands are pretty simple in design, but obviously do their jobs well – they are clear and stark and use very obvious examples which should be easy to understand for young kids, and of course lean heavily on things featured in the galleries (tyrannosaurs and hadrosaurs are plentiful to say the least), but without resorting to huge numbers of primary colours and cartoon-like illustrations which I think can be rather unnecessary. In short, great stuff!

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Berlin spirits

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So a last look at some of what is on show in the new Berlin halls. These are a couple of shots of their new spirit room, a climate-controlled room to protect all of the various pickled specimens in jar upon glass jar that line the shelves. The Natural History Museum in London have also relatively recently renovated their spirit collection and moved it to not just a better environment for the material, but also opened it up to the public in a similar manner and the effect in both cases is superb.

These are parts of collections rarely seen by visitors to museums and they are difficult to display and are probably seen as something of a turn-off since it does tend to be lots of very bleached and slightly decayed bodies crammed unceremoniously into jars, and it’s often pretty tricky to tell what’s in there. However in both cases I think the point is less about exactly what is there, and more the “look at all this stuff” effect of the whole collection. You are there to see the forest, not the trees, and so it’s a demonstration of just what material and information is there and what this means for both the museum collections and science as a whole. When that is offset by the aesthetics of all that glass in a glass-fronted room and clever lighting, the effect is quite wonderful.

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Berlin exhibitions

I started looking through the huge collection of photos from the Tyrrell and realised that I’d never finished covering all of the Berlin Museum that I started back at the end of Jan. I really don’t want to leave that hanging on till after we’ve trawled through huge amounts of the Tyrrell, so it’s time to try and polish them off. I had planned to spin these out a bit, but with plenty more pressing, I’ll have to keep it down. If you want more, I guess you’ll just have to go and visit.

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Much of the museum has been renovated and updated in relatively recent years and this was my first visit since the big update of the dinosaur hall in 2007. There are some lovely new displays and cabinets and in particular, some great little pieces that demonstrate key features of biology or evolution. Above we have a diversity wall, an increasingly common introduction to biology halls, something like this is present in many museums. Still, it is wonderfully done and well-lit and there is a lot to take in.

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This case is a great one about convergence, but sadly was hard to photograph so doesn’t really show it off well. As you can see, there’s a variety of aquatic vertebrates here, both extant and extinct, and the text explains the convergences in form of both body shape and fins / flippers etc. Each skeleton is apparently backed in black, but the other side shows the ‘fleshed’ out forms, with taxidermy skins for the extant animals, and well-made models for the extinct ones.

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And on the subject of taxidermy, here’s a great series of displays on the construction of museum-quality exhibits, covering all the issues of drawings, sculpture, skin preparation and the rest. While many places discuss casting and mounting skeletons, model making and the like, I can’t think of another set-up I’ve seen covering this aspect of curation. I suspect the reason may be a bit of anticipated squeamishness on behalf of the public, museums won’t want to draw attention to the killing and skinning of animals, even if it was done decades, even centuries ago, but it shouldn’t be ignored and this is a hell of a skill and should be celebrated.

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Though here is that almost inevitable (but again, very well done) case on casting and replicating materials, and for once not just dinosaur bones but other hard pieces and even a mounted fish. Again, clearly laid out, but concise, and well thought out.

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This one was really impressive: so simple and so effective. We have a nice relief map of New Guinea, with various skins of birds of paradise laid out, and then a map to show how the different barriers (mountains etc.) have led to reproductive isolation and the development of the different species and subspecies. It ties together wonderfully easily and it’s quite clear how they are all similar, but still different. A wonderful example of biogeography and evolution and presented very simply and clearly.

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And finally yes, some fossils. This is part of the Solnhofen display and does a nice job of showing off a lot of material, but without it being too crowded. It gets across the real diversity of species there and indeed the different modes of preservation (there’s some 3D bits in there).

Overall, the new material is really pretty good. There are some niggles and inevitably compromises, but there’s an awful lot of material to see and it’s well displayed. While I do really like exhibits and cabinets that show off the mechanics of museums as it were, these are especially good here and there’s a lot to be gained from them, and in particular how compact many of them are. And of course, really quite a few big dinosaurs as well.

From the grave to the cradle

This is the arm of the Dryosaurus skeleton I put up earlier in the week. You can see here quite clearly that the bones are held in ‘cradles’ that then are bolted onto the main support for the skeleton. This technique for mounting specimens has become popular recently (the remodeled dinosaur gallery in the Humboldt in Berlin uses the same methods) and it’s a welcome change from the old style. The bones used to be bolted directly to the frame meaning that they were often drilled through or had rods and bolts put through the bones themselves.

Obviously this is infinitely preferable to any form of damage or manipulation of the bones. It allows them to be put out on public exhibition, but it *also* allows them to be removed as single units as the cradles can be simply taken off the frame, and the whole thing doesn’t have to be taken apart to get to a single element. As a compromise, it’s relaly pretty good.

C is for Collect

This photo comes from the Carnegie’s super ‘family’ gallery, aimed at the providing interest and education for ages 3 and up. This was something unique that I have never seen before and was really well done – a simple A-Z of the museum itself and of museums in general. It included things like how to reconstruct a fossil animal (this in fact), an F for fossils, and here, C for collect. In addition to this huge cabinet of entomological specimens there was a massive pile of well, stuff, and a series of shopping baskets. Kids were encouraged to grab a basket and start their own collection from the huge assortment of things available meaning they could get all the toy dinosaurs, or all the blue items, or all the wooden ones etc. A wonderfully simple idea that would be fun, but clearly teach them about identifying things, that items can have multiple properties (you could get a wooden, blue, dinosaur) and that there are reasons a museum would want to collect them. Simple, fun, effective. Great stuff.

Taxidermic magnificence

Although the vast majority of my work involves looking at bones, I’m actually quite partial to a good piece of taxidermy. And this is nothing like a good piece, it’s actually magnificent. I’ve genuinely never seen anything quite like it and it is both beautiful and superbly executed. Two huge animals, rendered as if shooting through the water, held high off the ground (and with no massive support structures, there must be a wonderfully concealed steel support running through that branch) in a pose that’s both dramatic and realistic. This is just great, and the fact that you an walk all the way around i only makes it better.

The Carnegie had some truly superb taxidermy on show, and like this piece, not just in the sense of technical accomplishment, but the layouts and dioramas. One other memorable effort was of two adjoining displays of mountain sheep and goats. Mounted outside and between the two was a cougar, climbing around the rocks as if moving from one diorama to the next, and helping break down the barriers by being outside the glass and on the same side as the visitors – clever, inventive, worked. Brilliant.

What is what and where

At various times in the past on here I’ve discussed the issues surrounding the use of casts, sculptures and original bones as part of the mounts. One thing that is related to all of them however is how this is presented to the public. Not that museums try to conceal this fact, but it’s rarely advertised or specified exactly how things have been constructed. I’m strongly in favour of letting people know exactly what is on show. For a start it saves confusion, and certainly I would not expect the average museum visitor to be able to spot a cast from a real skeleton, and especially pick apart which parts of a skeleton may be which. People want to know what they are seeing, and I don’t think most are put off by the knowledge that something is a cast, or partly a cast (though of course it’s nice to have real material out there too).

It is of course also a jumping off point for useful discussion and instruction with the public. Fossil bones are rare and precious and need protecting, and it’s a risk to have them on display. Specimens are rarely complete, but elements can be restored from other specimens. When there’s no other direct evidence we can extrapolate from near relatives.

It was then with delight that I spotted that as part of the touch-screen information at the Carnegie, in this case, rather obviously, with their Triceratops. It shows exactly how the specimen on display was put together. This is nice from the public’s perspective, but also that of a researcher or more keen amateur. The Carnegie also lists the specimen numbers on their signs for any material on exhibit (which is also great in itself) but of course if you don’t have the original description to hand, or know exactly which parts are casts and which are real, the specimen number alone is not always as informative as it might be.

In short, this is something I’d love to see more of and this was done well. Good stuff.

Darwin in Beijing

imgp1674Charles Darwin of course never made it to China on his very extensive travels, but inevitably this year, and indeed on this day, he has a presence at the IVPP. I mentioned briefly before about a planned exhibition that has gone through with typical Chinese speed (in the end it was too short notice to include English notes for the admittedly few foreign visitors to the galleries, so I barely did anything for this) and was unveiled this morning.

It’s mostly a series of panels covering Darwin’s life and works and showing how modern evidence (most notably fossils in the IVPP of course) supports the theory of evolution by natural selection. As I say, it’s in Chinese, so few of my readers are likely to get much from it, but I took a couple of quick photos to show off a few of the panels, and especially the nice world map that shows the voyage of the Beagle and key events or finds from the journey. (Sorry about the odd angles of some of the photos it was necessary to avoid the gallery lights reflecting).

Three great protagonists, but probably not as they saw themselves

Three great protagonists, but probably not as they saw themselves

It’s good to see so many museums and institutes using this year as an excuse or motivation to get across some of the inspiring ideas and works of Darwin, and what has followed, plus to dispel a few of the worse and more perpetuated fictions. My only complaint would be that while an opportunity like this is too good to miss, (and certainly more funds and interest would be available than in other years) it is just a shame that something like this is needed to trigger it.

imgp16581While many museums have exhibits or even whole galleries on evolution, many small and even large ones do not even mention it. Surely something this fundamental to a natural history / science museum (and this goes for botanical gardens, aquaria and zoos as well) needs to be featured, and prominently at that? I honestly can’t think of a non-permanent exhibit to Darwin or evolution as a whole that I have ever seen in any museum (though as ever I may have just missed them). Many do have them, great, but for those that don’t, to have to wait for such an anniversary seems a bit silly to say the least.

Still, the work is being done and the word is being spread. For this we must be grateful, and I am certainly pleased that the IVPP are doing their part.

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