Saturday, November 14, 2009

New trendy Ashmolean and old-fashioned Pitt Rivers

Above: Pitt Rivers does look similar to how it did in the 1901 photo. Now the display cases are chock-full and the spacious-lloking hall is crammed to the gunwales with stuff.

Above: Architectural spaces have been created at the Ashmolean but these are slightly disconnected from the exhibits. Here a load of unlabelled Chantrey plaster busts have been used as decorator items in a stairwell. Is that wrong? It is the modern way that salvage is used.

Oxford UK - TWO Oxford museums have been given a makeover in 2009: the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers, the former at £60m costing more than any museum makeover since the £100m British Museum roof project, and the latter costing £2.5m. What do you get for your money? Both museums were founded on substantial early collections, with the Ashmolean (the oldest museum in England) having a more classic spread from Egypt to Pre-Raphaelite situated in a series of galleries, while Pitt Rivers was more ethnographic including huge North American totem poles and medieval English spells, located in many display cabinets in one large hall.

The money at the Ashmolean seems to have been spent on creating space - an architect designing a museum - and not on showing the collection, although the determined visitor will find plenty to satisfy. The labelling was not complete, and it was not obvious what some of the items were. This cannot be said of Pitt Rivers where the architecture and joinery has been left intact and the handwritten labelling intricately comprehensive. The pleasant and spacious ambience of a modern museum without a cluttered mass of exhibits is the Ashmolean. For an original Victorian museums the Pitt Rivers has no peer.

Both museums have free admission and both invite schoolchildren - older children at the Ashmolean and the youngsters at Pitt Rivers.

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