Cleveland, OH: “Medieval Monsters” @ the CMA

I think this week is less of a stretch than last week in keeping with the Halloween theme of October. C’mon, monsters?! Scary! But obviously the Cleveland Museum of Art doesn’t agree with me, because this exhibition closed well before Halloween, on 6th October. So you can’t visit it now, but I couldn’t have blogged about it in time anyway because I didn’t see it myself until the week before it closed, what with not living in Cleveland (frankly, I was glad I got to see it at all, after longingly watching CMA post about it for months on Instagram).

 

“Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” was a free exhibition, as is the museum itself, but good luck finding parking nearby other than in the museum’s $10 lot (and public transport in Cleveland? Forget it!), but I can’t really begrudge them that income before it is such an excellent museum. However, they could have had better signage, because it took me ages to figure out where this exhibition was (I could only find paper maps, when a big mounted map somewhere would be much more eco-friendly), and I couldn’t even find a member of staff to ask. Eventually I realised it was downstairs, opposite the main special exhibition that you have to pay for (on Michelangelo at the time of my visit. I skipped it).

 

As you may have guessed from the title, the exhibition was divided into three sections: Terrors, which was meant to be about how monsters “enhanced the auras of those in power,” though I seem to recall it being primarily about saints and the ways in which they were tortured to death (admittedly, many of those pictures and manuscripts were originally owned by various kings and queens, hence the power I guess); Aliens, which was about marginalised groups in medieval European society; and Wonders, which was more in the vein of teratology, and included fabulous beasts and anomalous (and imaginary) humans.

 

The museum had also produced a rather fabulous free Field Guide to Medieval Monsters, which included images of all the monsters featured in the exhibition, with a brief description of each. This included some of my old favourites like Blemmyae (the supposed race of headless people with faces on their chests) and the Hellmouth (literally a mouth that was meant to be the entrance to hell); and others I’d seen but never knew the names of, like Gryllus (a human head on horse-like legs. Different from a centaur, because Gryllus is just a head sitting right on top of legs, no body) and the Ziphius (meant to be a horrible sea monster, but he’s grumpy and adorable! I want one as a pet. Please go look at him via the link at the start of this paragraph).

 

Even considering that much of the art was religious in nature – which is not normally my thing – because it was for the most part so weird and gory, this ending up being so my type of exhibition. There was thoughtful text in each room describing how the idea of monsters shaped the medieval world, and covering serious themes like mental illness and xenophobia, but I have to admit that I was mainly in it for the illuminated manuscripts and the promise of marginalia, and that is what has stuck with me the most when it came time to write this post. Though I probably shouldn’t, I find many medieval pictures depicting the martyrdom of saints completely hilarious, and my favourite here was the piece above left depicting St. Bartholomew keeping his chin up with a jolly grin whilst being flayed alive (and clearly the medieval church had a sense of humour just as sick as mine, because he is the patron saint of tanners, leather workers and butchers. Talk about black humour).

 

There was also some charming marginalia here, including my personal favourite, a man mooning some sort of ceremony (I forgot which) with his thumb up his butt to indicate disrespect (in case the mooning wasn’t disrespectful enough). Not quite as good as a butt trumpet, but close enough!

 

I also loved all the beasts – even the real ones like elephants and crocodiles appeared to have been drawn by someone who had never seen such things in person, and I find the naive nature of their illustrations endlessly charming. This exhibition was an absolute joy to look at, and I’m sorry you won’t be able to see it too, but I hope my (poor quality) images at least gave you a sense of what was there. My only complaint was that the postcards in the gift shop didn’t feature the best of the monsters, but I know having custom postcards made is always a bit of a gamble, so I can’t bitch too much. 4/5.

 

Whilst I was here, in addition to visiting my favourite Henri Rousseau (Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo) and Jacques-Louis David (Cupid and Psyche) paintings, I also popped in to see their “Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design” exhibition, which was in one of the small galleries upstairs. Based on the name, I was expecting something IKEA-esque, but it was so much better than that. This was actually about textile design, and though it was a bit light on signage (perhaps because it had been put together by grad students at Case), the fabrics themselves were absolutely lovely, as you can hopefully see from the images below. It only took me about ten minutes to view, but it’s worth the detour if you’re here anyway. Good old CMA!

 

 

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London: The Moon @ the National Maritime Museum

I’m trying my best to keep to a Halloweeny theme in October (I don’t even think Halloweeny is a word, but it doesn’t stop me from using it constantly), and even though this exhibition wasn’t directly related to Halloween, what could be more atmospheric on Halloween night than a big old full moon (or even a spooky crescent moon)? I’ve always loved the moon, as I think I’ve said on several occasions – my old bedroom was star and moon themed, and I currently have four moon tattoos (with probably more to come) – there’s just something about the whole nighttime/dark side of human nature aspect of it that I can relate to.  The Moon exhibition is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and runs until 5th January 2020. This is the first special exhibition the National Maritime Museum has had in quite a while (or at least, the first one in a while that has been worth seeing), and you know I’m always up for an excuse to get Brazilian churros from Greenwich Market, so off to Greenwich I went!

This exhibition was a little bit cheaper than their exhibitions normally are, at £10 (half off for National Art Pass), but it was also a bit smaller than normal. The woman at the ticket desk was really lovely and friendly (it’s always flattering when they ask if you’re under 25, especially now that I’ve hit 34…), which was nice, since I’ve encountered a few grumps there in the past. Amazingly, you were actually allowed to take photos, which is almost never the case at the National Maritime Museum – had I known, I would have brought Marcus, but as it is, you’re left with my crappy phone pics. Hopefully you can still get some sense of how pleasingly dark and lunar it was inside.

The gallery was divided into four different sections, each with a different theme, and opened with an exploration of how different cultures have viewed the moon throughout history, and the role that it plays in society and religion. This included the really cool moon mask shown above, some gorgeous silver moon jewellery, and a few bits and bobs from the Romans, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians, including a little tablet inscribed with lunar eclipse rituals.

 

Not being a big ancient history fan, the more interesting section to me was about the moon and the role it played in four humours theory medicine right up until the 19th century. I loved the crescent moon apothecary sign! And of course the term “lunatic” derives from the moon and the role it was thought to play in human behaviour (it was thought to influence moisture in the brain, which in turn could lead to fits of “lunacy”). The exhibition highlighted the sad case of James Norris (who I think I mentioned in the Bedlam exhibition write-up), who was kept chained up for fourteen years in Bedlam before campaigners demanded his release (he died soon afterwards). Pierrot is kind of a creep (since he’s a clown), but I would definitely hang out with his charming moon friend.

 

The second section was more scientific in nature, and I guess was trying to tie in the moon to the National Maritime Museum’s collections, because they really pushed the moon as navigational aid and bringer of tides angle (I mean, it is a navigational aid and bringer of tides, so it’s not really an angle as such, but they were clearly trying to get the whole maritime theme in there in a way that felt a bit forced). And I know I’m always showing you that portrait of young, dishy Joseph Banks, so you might as well look at one of the fatter, less dishy older man he became.

 

This part of the exhibition was full of a lot of drawings of the moon, a moon globe (much cooler and rarer than an Earth globe), and some Victorian photographs taken by a guy of a plaster model of the moon he had made that actually won some prizes for photography (they knew he used plaster models, they just didn’t care because they were good photographs. Have totally forgotten guy’s name though). I really hate Pink Floyd (and now I know that song is going to get stuck in my head), but I liked the first photograph of the dark side of the moon, taken by Soviet craft Luna 3 in 1959.

 

The third section was about the space race, and I suppose this had all the exciting items that most people would have come to see (certainly judging by the people gathered around the cases – most of the exhibition was pleasantly empty, but there was a small crowd in here who fortunately dispersed by the time I made it to that side of the display), including Neil Armstrong’s “Snoopy helmet” (so named for the flaps that bore a resemblance to the cartoon dog’s ears), a watch worn on the moon, the camera equipment that was taken on the Apollo 11 mission, and a whole bunch of chunks of moon rock (the US brought back something like 340 kg of it and Nixon presented a little chunk to every country in the world. You can see the UK’s fragment further down in this post).

 

Me being me, I was much more interested in the weird stuff, like the display about HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, which was quite scientifically accurate about some things, but not about the aliens (there was a little model alien here based on Wells’ description), Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, which was playing on a video screen (it totally creeps me out, but I like it), and of course, the excellent Soviet and American propaganda posters (I have to say that I vastly prefer the Soviet style. What’s with all those lame eagles everywhere on the American one? It looks like a joke poster).

 

The final (small) section was about the future of the moon. Are we going on more moon missions? Will people ever colonise the moon (or will America just exploit its natural resources?)? These and other questions were discussed here, and there was a touchscreen where you could answer some questions yourself and see what other visitors had said, one of the only interactive elements in the exhibition (I don’t consider touchscreens that simply play a video on command to be interactive. They’re just kind of boring).

 

Although there weren’t as many interactive elements as I’d have liked, I found the staging of this exhibition to be quite cool, with a lot of interesting visual effects that really added to the atmosphere (or lack thereof, since we’re talking about the moon). The was a large lunar calendar on one wall, a big rotating moon on another, and of course the giant lit-up crescent moon shown at the start of the post. It felt like a space I could have hung out in all day (if there had been more content to read), and I would definitely have the big old crescent moon in my house (which is exactly what a guy did for an art project, as you’ll see at the end of the post).

 

Though I don’t really believe in it (I’m more of a non-practising, non-theistic Pagan, except when I’m in the mood to whip up a spell), I would have liked to have seen more about the witchy aspects of the moon, as the exhibition focused more on ancient and mainstream religions. Even more mythology would have been interesting – there was a chart listing all the different faces that people see in the moon, depending on hemisphere, which was really neat, and I wanted more of that – but I did only pay a fiver, and for that price, I’m pretty happy with the size of the exhibition, just wish it had been a bit more interactive. I still enjoyed the environment of the exhibit (definitely helped that there were very few other visitors) and all the great moon themed art and artefacts (though I could have done with more of that in the shop, instead of boring old t-shirts and magnets). And of course I loved my pre-exhibition churro in Greenwich Market. 3/5 for The Moon exhibition.

 

 

London: “Art and Spirit” @ the College of Psychic Studies

And so we happily come to October, best of months, in which all I want to do is breathe, eat, read, watch, and sleep Halloween (to be honest, I do that for most of the rest of the year too, but especially in October). Because I like to try to do Halloween related posts for as much of October as I can, and because appropriately spooky things rarely come my way in London, I’ve been hanging on to this one since August. So you will no longer be able to visit “Art and Spirit: Visions of Wonder,” as it only ran for one week in August, but how about I give you my thoughts on it anyway? (Rhetorical question, you’re getting my thoughts whether you like it or not.)

  

The first thing you need to know about me, if you’ve never read my blog before (hi!), is that as much as I would love to believe in ghosts, I am at heart a cold hard skeptic, and these people had no chance on selling me on any concept of an afterlife. So I was relieved that the exhibition was free, because I really did not want to give the College of Psychic Studies money (or any sort of religious organisation money, for that matter). The place was exactly what I was expecting (maybe I’m psychic?) – a big rambling terraced house in South Kensington that the College had presumably financed back in the late 19th/early 20th century during the Spiritualism craze when they were rolling in the dough. The College is open to the public for classes and things (that you have to pay for, of course), but I think the summer exhibition is the only time the whole building is open to the public, and it was hard to tell if they had actually put together an exhibition specially, or if this is the stuff that is always in here.

  

In all fairness, the people working there were very friendly, albeit a bit earnest. The same was true of most of our fellow visitors, who seemed to really believe in this stuff (a couple were questioning why you don’t get spirits on photographs anymore, and talking about how “powerful” all the images were), and I guess good for you if you’re able to embrace your spiritual side, but I am a terrible person, and earnestness makes me uncomfortable (I don’t really have a problem with people believing what they want to believe as long as they’re not pushing it on me or hurting anyone, but I do take issue with psychics and other people who exploit people’s vulnerability for financial gain, and it seems like there’s a lot of supposed “psychics” connected to this college). The people working there also seemed a little confused on whether we could take pictures – two different people told us it was fine, but then we spotted small signs in some of the rooms telling us not to take pictures. So I do have some photos, but not in places where we noticed a sign, so hopefully there won’t be an issue with posting these.

  

So as I’ve said, basically the entire building was open, and you could wander in all of the rooms, but some of them had barely anything in them which made me think that this is the way it normally looks. But the building was huge, and there was lots to see (lots of stairs too, though I think they had a lift). I would say the best bits by far were the spirit photography (as seen above), and the spirit paintings (as seen at the start of the post), which were just naive art, but done by people who claimed to have their hands guided by spirits (I had to laugh at the captions that basically said, “This person never drew before in their lives, and then they produced these [very primitive] paintings, so that’s proof that they must have been guided by a spirit.”).

 

There was sort of a shrine room to Arthur Conan Doyle, who was one of the College’s presidents, which was a bit odd, and then various supposedly haunted furniture, which in theory I love the sound of, but oh man, did they take it seriously. I was also cracking up at how they tried to dismiss the debunking of a seance that featured spirit writing by saying that the people who did the debunking weren’t properly familiar with how seances worked, so they didn’t understand that the writing on the board could occur at any time, even before the seance had begun (and not because the psychic had put it there themselves, of course). It was just all a bit too credulous for me. Still, I was interested to learn more about all the devices used in seances, and about the history of the Rider-Waite Tarot cards, since I do dabble in tarot (just for fun, not for serious).

I’m sure I just sound like I’m taking the piss, but I do think this was an interesting experience – if it hadn’t been a serious exhibition, but had been something more in the vein of the Harry Potter exhibition at the BL or even the Witchcraft Museum (who don’t seem to take themselves quite so seriously), I would have been really into it. As it was, I was just a little too weirded out by the earnestness to fully enjoy myself (I was sort of worried someone was going to try to convert us to spiritualism, though nothing like that happened. I know I said I didn’t want to give them money, but if they’d had that “Psychic Intercourse” poster for sale, I’d have bought it in a second). It was certainly a very unique experience, and perfect for this time of year (though I had no problem getting into the spirit in August, so to speak), and worth checking out if they open again next summer, but I certainly don’t think I’ll be joining the College any time soon. 2.5/5.

 

 

Gothenburg: Museum of Gothenburg

As usual, I visited far too many places on this trip (and have been quite busy with work lately, not to mention moving house!) to have blogged about them all in a timely manner, and here I am writing about my visit to the Museum of Gothenburg two months after the fact (and the post probably won’t go up until three months after my visit), so forgive me if my recollections of the museum are a little hazy at this point. The weather was absolute shit on our last day in Gothenburg, as it had been for the other two days we were in Gothenburg as well (this made me take strongly against Gothenburg, even though it isn’t really Gothenburg’s fault, but our grim overpriced hotel didn’t help either. If it wasn’t for those free waffles, the whole thing would have been depressing), so we were looking for somewhere warm and dry to kill time until our flight that afternoon.

 

Fortunately, the Museum of Gothenburg was huge, and quite a steal (at Scandinavian standards) at only 60 SEK admission (around £6). I was also pleased that there were free lockers in which we could hang our dripping coats and umbrella, especially because our lousy hotel had no staff anywhere to be seen when we tried to check out, so we had to schlep our bags to the train station and pay for a locker there instead of leaving them at the hotel for free (it probably worked out better in the end that we didn’t have to go all the way back to the hotel, but still, crappy service), so I was all about free anything at that point. Like most of the museums we visited in Scandinavia, they were great about providing English translations for the permanent exhibitions, but not so much for the temporary stuff, which I guess is understandable. Why spend the money on translation if it’s only there for a few months? (And yes, the photo above is of our friend the Malm Whale, being moved to his current location.)

 

As is apparently obligatory anywhere Vikings lived, the museum started with a Gold Room containing both plunder and objects that were precious to people for more sentimental reasons, such as the collection of baby shoes donated by one family. This gallery encouraged you to download an app so you could listen to stories about the objects at each station, but there were also tablets mounted around the room where you could read English descriptions of the displays, so I just left it at that, and still had plenty to do.

 

This segued into “Urbanum”, which was meant to contain the stories of the people who make up the city, but as I said earlier, almost nothing here was in English, so we just looked at the pictures, and took the opportunity to write a postcard about our time in the city which I think pretty accurately sums up our experience.

 

Now, the museum is big, and the layout is pretty confusing. There were a lot of stairs all over the building that led to different areas, and some galleries were only accessible by one particular set of stairs, so we probably did a lot of unnecessary walking up and down, which makes Jessica cranky. Due to this confusing layout, we ended up starting in the permanent historical galleries in the 1600s, which I guess doesn’t really matter in the end, but I would have found it much more satisfying to do them in order. Nonetheless, the 1600s was pretty fun (apparently because they’re targeting it at 13-15 year olds) with a few interactive bits, such as a wheel you could spin to find your 17th century destiny. I was an officer (win!), so I got to enter through the high class door that led to galleries about amusements like the theatre, rather than the pleb entrance that led to stuff about workhouses and prison (though I obviously looked at both galleries eventually anyway).

 

The museum also had very comprehensive and interactive galleries about Gothenburg in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in what is probably a nice change of pace, you can watch me reacting to a gross poop, rather than pretending to poop myself (has anyone watched that Louis Theroux special about mothers on the edge where he goes to one of their houses and has to admire the kid’s turdage? (Less weird than it sounds when you actually watch it.) “That IS a big poo!” That was totally my Louis Theroux moment).

 

I have little to no enthusiasm for the Vikings, but when in Sweden… Of course the museum had a Viking gallery, and guess what? Another bloody preserved Viking ship! At least it was only the one, and the rest of the gallery was fairly interesting, with information about Viking gods, wisdom, and practices. Also there was a fun tree staircase you could climb up to get to the second level (or maybe you were meant to descend to go to the first? Pretty sure we went in backwards here too). There was also a prehistory gallery, but I am even less interested in that than the Vikings, so I walked through there pretty damn fast.

And got to the part I was excited about – the fashion gallery! Yay for old clothes! Honestly, this was probably the best gallery in the museum. There was a lot of text about the people who wore the clothes, how styles evolved, and even the factory system that made some of the clothing. And of course they had bits you could try on: hats, ties, and even high heels! Since I had bare feet, I did skip the shoes. Not worth risking a wart for. The clothes currently on display are from the 1880s-1930s, so even though it left out some of my favourite mid-century fashions, it was still a good clothes era. Lots of fab old-timey bathing suits!

 

The other gallery I was most keen to see, which I don’t even see listed on their website, was the one full of miniature dioramas! Because the children’s gallery was closed at the time of our visit, which I suspect you would normally be able to cut through from the fashion gallery, we had to go all the way back downstairs, through the museum, and up another set of staircases, then through the School Wall Charts gallery, before finally finding the miniatures. I think they were probably aimed more at children, given their proximity to the children’s gallery, but they are still totally charming for adults, and you were encouraged to find certain objects in each one. There were a lot of adorably derpy miniature dogs.

 

We did look at the school wall charts as well – apparently they’re a thing hipsters like to decorate their houses with in Sweden, and I can see why, though I’ll pass on all the arthropody ones (sadly, none were for sale in the gift shop, presumably because you have to track down the originals from some vintage shop at much time and expense, in true hipster fashion (I’m sort of a hipster, so it’s probably fine if I mock them)). I also encountered one of the most comfortable chairs I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in, and much appreciated after walking up and down all those stairs. I sort of assumed, being in Sweden, that it might come from IKEA, but sadly I haven’t been able to find anything like it (though I did get a less comfortable wing chair and footstool for my new house). It’s probably vintage, just like the posters.

 

On the whole, this was quite an enjoyable visit, and probably the best thing we did in Gothenburg (other than the free waffles and seeing the Malm Whale). I think the price is more than reasonable considering all you get, and I’m pretty sure I learned a lot about the city, though I can’t remember exactly what two months out from the visit (I know, I know, I should be faster at writing things up). I suspect the layout is slightly less confusing when all the galleries are actually open, but I think better signage would have been appreciated in the meantime. Other than that, no major complaints! 3.5/5.

Gothenburg, Sweden: The Volvo Museum

And so we come to the Volvo Museum. “Not just for petrolheads,” they said. “Something for everyone,” they said. They lied.

 

I could already tell it was going to be an ordeal from the journey there. We had to take a tram from central Gothenburg practically to the end of the line, get off, and wait for half an hour at a horrible bus station for the bus out to the museum (I have never seen so many cigarette butts in my life, and there was a girl with a litter picker ostensibly working there, but she completely ignored every single one of the cigarette butts. I really didn’t understand). The only redeeming feature of the bus station was that it had a 7/11, which in Scandinavia function as purveyors of surprisingly tasty cinnamon rolls and all manner of Daim. I’ve yet to meet a Daim bar I didn’t like, and even the fairly gross sounding lemon variety was surprisingly delicious (the best are the Daim/cornflake clusters though. Highly recommended!). After finally boarding the bus, we were taken on a marvellous journey through a vast industrial wasteland (I swear it was full of fish processing plants. At least that’s what it smelled like) for another half an hour or so before at last reaching the museum, which is located inside a giant glass building that is Volvo headquarters. It is on the seafront, which is much less glamorous than it sounds, because the Gothenburg seafront just means being pelted with wind and rain whilst you run to shelter. Oh, and if you visit on a weekend, you have to book the bus in advance, which is why we were sure to visit on a weekday.

 

Admission to the museum is 100 SEK (about £8.50), and if you’re really keen, you can buy an annual pass for 250 SEK (I can’t imagine who would possibly want this. Even petrolheads would probably be satisfied after one visit). By this point, I’m sure you are asking yourself why I chose to visit this museum at all. Well, I sort of felt that I had to. It doesn’t get more Swedish than a Volvo Museum, the place was listed on Atlas Obscura, and really, when am I going to be in Gothenburg again (based on my experience, probably never)? Also Marcus wanted to see it, so there we were.

 

I will at least say this for them: they give you a lot for your money. I swear a model of every Volvo ever made was in here, and there definitely seemed like some duplicates. Unfortunately, as someone who has virtually no interest in Volvos (or any car, for that matter), this was way too many cars. I could appreciate the aesthetic qualities of some of the earlier models, but by the time we got to the ’60s (the cars are grouped roughly by decade), I was perfectly happy to give up. The most interesting parts for me were the signs talking about what each decade meant for Sweden, and the videos of old Volvo commercials, which were at least entertainingly dated (there was about a ten minute long one about some guy wooing a beautiful woman with an ugly-ass car. It was so long I missed the end, but I’m sure they probably got married because of the power of the Volvo).

 

One highlight, if you can call it that, was the car owned by Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, and driven until his death in 2018. You can see my expression of awe above. I would have so much rather just gone to an IKEA Museum, but apparently that’s in Almhult, which appears to be sort of in the middle of nowhere, so it was Volvo we were stuck with. I also, to give credit where credit’s due, liked the moustachioed mannequins, and the stuffed German Shepherds and black labs posing as police dogs in the back of the Volvo-made police cars.

 

Unfortunately, and contrary to what the brochure seemed to promise, this museum contained virtually nothing interactive – just room after room after room full of cars, but that didn’t stop parents from bringing their equally as bored as me looking children there. Unless you have the sort of child that REALLY loves cars, Volvos in particular (my brother was one of those weirdos, though I don’t think he particularly likes Volvos), I would strongly advise against this. I suppose there was a bell they could ring (super annoying) and a fire truck and bus they could climb in, but that was basically it.

 

The museum building does contain a shop (for all your Volvo-branded needs), and a small café, so I guess at least you won’t starve if you’re stuck here whilst waiting for a bus, because yep, they only come every half an hour. I made sure to time the end of our visit with the next scheduled bus, because it was seriously ridiculously cold and windy outside, and I did not want to have to sit in that sad little bus stop for any longer than necessary.

 

However, we had a little time to kill after finishing the museum, and since I didn’t want to go outside until we had to, we walked around the free introductory gallery, which seemed like a sort of afterthought, as it was filled with seating for events and kind of off to the side. I’m glad we did, because the best thing in the whole damn museum was here, better even than Ingvar Kamprad’s car: Roger Moore’s personal Volvo, which was used in The Saint. Because I have read Roger Moore’s autobiography (yes, I’m weird. I also have one of the sewing pattern catalogues where he modelled sweaters when just starting out), I knew that he deliberately purchased the same car himself as used in The Saint, both because he got a discount, and because he thought they could use it for shots where they needed an additional car. They did have a model of this same car in the museum, with a little metal version of The Saint logo, but this was his actual car! So definitely don’t miss this bit!

 

The bus didn’t come exactly on time, so we still did have some time sitting in the wind tunnel bus shelter, and then of course the scenic trip back to Gothenburg (not that our hotel was any better. Seriously the smallest hotel room I have ever stayed in. Literally only one of us could stand up at a time, and the other one would have to sit on the bed. The only good thing about it was that they had free make-your-own waffles for fika in the afternoons. I can forgive a lot for the sake of waffles). I suppose they did technically have something I was interested in, namely, Roger Moore’s car, but was it worth the trip out there, and the hour or two spent slogging around the rest of the museum? No. So I’m giving it 2/5, and warning you that if you’re not a “gearhead” “petrolhead” or “dieselhead” (all of which they used in their advertising, in the context of it not just being for those people), you will probably be much happier having skipped it and stayed in Gothenburg eating waffles instead (and I’m not even a big fan of Gothenburg, in case you didn’t get that impression already).

Apparently this is the hilariously named Assar Gabrielsson and Gustav Larson discussing Volvo. Woot.

 

Oslo and Gothenburg: A Tale of Two Natural History Museums

I’ve been to a lot of natural history museums over the years, which is odd, because they’re not necessarily the museums I gravitate to – if I have limited time in a city, I would much rather visit somewhere unique or quirky than go to the type of museum you could see anywhere. But sometimes I just end up there anyway, maybe because they have some type of rare dinosaur bones Marcus wants to see, or a really unusual (usually derpy) piece of taxidermy I can’t miss. This is basically what happened in both Oslo and Gothenburg. I’ll start with Oslo, even though it is the less interesting of the two.

Oslo’s Natural History Museum didn’t look all that enticing, but it was only a short walk away from the Munch Museum through a rather lovely botanical garden, we got in for free anyway with the Oslo Pass (otherwise 120 kr. Yikes, don’t pay that!), and they had a T-Rex (named Stan) that Marcus was keen to see. One of the museum buildings (the geology one) appears to be closed for construction, but we only really cared about the animal building anyway. Stan is in the first gallery when you walk in, just past a staircase lined with one of the most disgusting giant crabs I’ve ever seen (I’ll spare you a photo, but its legs were legit six feet long).

 

The rest of the museum was fairly standard natural history fare, but someone really went to a lot of effort with the tableaux, right down to carefully painting in white bird shit on all the rocks in the scenes featuring birds. There were also buttons you could press throughout to hear the calls of the birds on display, and in general this section felt quite modern compared to what you normally get in a natural history museum, marred only by all the bratty bratty children running amok and fighting each other right in the middle of the museum. I get that Scandinavians are laid-back parents, but c’mon, at least teach your children how to behave in a damn museum. This wasn’t even in a special kids’ section, it was the main gallery, with glass all around. If you’re just visiting Oslo, this museum is not worth a special trip unless you REALLY like natural history, and even then, definitely don’t go if you have to pay full price. 2.5/5.

 

So we’ll leave the Oslo Natural History Museum, and head to Gothenburg’s Naturhistoriska, which is pretty much the archetype of the old fashioned museum. Gothenburg was about fifteen degrees colder than Oslo, rainy, and unbelievably windy, so getting to Naturhistoriska was already a much less pleasant experience than getting to the museum in Oslo, plus we had to walk up a big-ass hill to actually reach the museum. However, I was the one that wanted to go see it, for a very special piece of taxidermy that I’ll get to in a minute, so I sucked it up. At least Gothenburg’s natural history museum is free, albeit with an air of must and neglect.

 

Nothing in here was in English, but I don’t think that really matters when you’re just looking at dead animals. And wow, what a lot of dead animals! I like taxidermy a lot more than most people (and definitely way more than most vegetarians do), but the sheer volume in here made even me feel slightly ill, especially when we got to the bird section, where there must have been thousands of dead birds. I mean, this stuff was clearly Victorian (or even older, since it was established in 1833), as you can probably tell from the absolutely terrible (delightful) quality of much of the taxidermy, but a hell of a lot of animals had to die to make it. Also, the cases don’t look like they’ve been updated since 1833, though they clearly must have been since the museum has only been in its present location since 1923.

 

And now we come to the whole reason I had to see this museum – the blue whale, or Malm Whale, to give it its proper name. This is clearly the star attraction, as there are signs pointing to it throughout the museum, and it has its own hall (the Whale Hall). The juvenile whale was beached outside Gothenburg in 1865, and some fisherman basically tortured the poor thing for two days until it finally died. The carcass was sold to August Malm, the curator at the museum, who decided to preserve it and display it. He even tried to take it on tour, but that was less successful, and it ended up back in the museum. It is the only preserved blue whale in the world (thankfully), and if that isn’t interesting enough, it was built with a seating area inside, which was originally just generally open to the public until a couple was caught having sex inside in the 1930s. It still apparently opens on special occasions such as Walpurgis Night or Christmas, when Santa sits inside, which really must be something to see. I felt awful for this poor whale, but I can’t deny that it is probably the coolest piece of taxidermy I’ve ever seen – the skin is held together with rivets for god’s sake – and as grisly as it is, I would jump at the chance to go inside.

 

As you might expect, Malm Whale was definitely the highlight, but there were a hell of a lot more dead animals to get through, of varying degrees of quality. I did enjoy the Nessie equivalent of Gothenburg, especially as I assume nothing had to die to create her. I had to skip the rather extensive arthropod section (I literally had to shield my eyes when I walked through. Coincidentally, I had just had a nightmare about giant lobsters the night before, and they actually had one in this museum. My crustacean phobia is no joke), and mammals and birds were both far too extensive, though there were certainly plenty of characterful specimens (how sassy is that monkey? Love him!).

      

This museum is definitely not for the faint-hearted (I feel like I say that a lot), but the Malm Whale manages to be both depressing and awesome, and for me made it worth the trip (I still 100% want to go inside if I get the chance). It is free, so this one is worth checking out I think, if, of course, you can take the sight of thousands of dead animals, many of them now endangered. I really would be hard-pressed to name a more old school museum than this, right down to the smells, and I definitely think there’s something to be said for the experience of walking through something this Victorian-feeling (though Victorians would definitely not have put up with the children turning cartwheels(!) through the museum, inches from a glass case. I mean, really?!) – until it got to the point of dead animal overload, I was really enjoying myself. 3.5/5.

Oslo: The Munch Museum (Munchmuseet)

After my positive experience at the British Museum’s Munch exhibition, where I realised that, yes, I am a fan of Munch, I was very keen to see the Munch Museum in Oslo. Unfortunately, the Munch Museum is currently in the process of moving to a new location, so only a small portion of the collection is open to the public. As you may have seen from previous posts, this seemed to be the case with a lot of the museums in Oslo, which are being moved/combined/etc, to create what looks like will be a more centralised museum district, so it was probably poor planning on our part, but to be honest, there were so many museums to see that it didn’t have a major impact on our trip, except in the case of the Munch Museum (and the Ibsen Museum, which was totally closed).

Even though the museum is currently only hosting one temporary exhibition called EXIT! (which runs until 8th September), with none of the permanent galleries open, it still costs 120 kr to get in (£12), though it was fortunately included with the Oslo Pass. I’m not going to lie, I was EXTREMELY annoyed by their airport style security, especially given how little was actually in the museum. As I learned at the exhibition, they have had problems with theft in the past, so I certainly understand not letting in large bags, but you basically couldn’t bring in anything of any significant size (only bags smaller than a sheet of A4). My purse was quite small (for me, since I tend to have big-ass purses), so I thought I was ok, and waited in the lengthy queue for security only to realise when I got to the front that you couldn’t bring in umbrellas or water either, both of which I had in my bag, so I had to get out of line, go downstairs to put my bag in the lockers, come back up, and wait in line all over again. So annoying, especially because the woman at the admissions desk told Marcus he would have to put his backpack in a locker, but didn’t mention anything about the other prohibited items. I thought the British Museum’s security was strict, but they don’t really care what you bring in as long as it’s not a suitcase or a weapon. This was just excessive – what do they think I’m going to do with my tiny travel umbrella?

 

Anyway, once we were finally granted access to the inner sanctum and started reading all the articles in the exhibition, the high security did make a little more sense, but it seems like they were trying to make up for their earlier laxity by being overzealous now. They’ve had a few paintings stolen over the years, including their copy of The Scream, which was eventually recovered, but not before it suffered water damage. The building originally had I guess sort of slatted walls, so anyone could just reach under and grab something. They tried to combat that by getting a guard dog, as seen above, but he bit a visitor who wasn’t trying to steal anything so that put an end to that, and I suppose they eventually settled on the current system, laborious though it is. Also they have a lot of guards in the gallery who keep an uncomfortably close eye on visitors.

 

We got stuck behind a large tour group, and obviously they all wanted a picture with The Scream, which was in the second room of the exhibition, so whilst we were waiting for our turn, we wandered around and looked at some of Munch’s other paintings. There was a lot of information about how the museum was started, but not so much about Munch himself, so it was good I got the background from the British Museum exhibition. The paintings also didn’t have a whole lot of information about them, just a small label to the side of each one, though everything was in English. I didn’t like how one whole wall of the gallery was taken up with souvenirs they sell in the shop – if you have a massive collection, why are you charging me £12 to look at souvenirs?!

 

We finally got our obligatory Scream photo (as you can see at the start), and wandered off into the final large gallery, which contained guidebooks from all of the museum’s exhibitions over the years. These would have probably been interesting if we could have looked through them, but the covers didn’t particularly do anything for me (accidental Scream pose below, but really that’s just one of my standard museuming poses).

 

There was a small room in the back that contained some of Munch’s woodblock prints (so great), and another room with a few of his murals in, and those were cool, but that was it (I even went looking for more, but aside from a film room downstairs, that really was it). The shop and cafe area was nearly the size of the exhibition, so it’s clear where their priorities currently lie!

 

Even though there were a few great pieces on display here, if this was my introduction to Munch outside The Scream, I don’t think this would have won me over the way the British Museum’s exhibition did. I get that they can’t have a full display whilst they’re in the process of moving, and I am glad I got to see something, but I don’t think they should be charging 120 kr for this, and I think they should make it clearer before you pay admission that this is all you get to see, because the main page of their website certainly didn’t make me realise that this was all that was on display. I’m still totally a Munch fan, but I am not a fan of this museum in its current state (and I know I keep saying that, but seriously why would all your major museums be under construction at the same time?! Get it together, Oslo). 2/5.

 

Oslo: Nobel Peace Center

 

After my fairly terrible experience with the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo wasn’t exactly high on my list. But it was right by the port where we kept walking in the evenings to get soft eis (also where they’re building a new museum complex, as you can probably see from the construction all around), it was open until 6, and we got in for free with our Oslo Pass (120 kr otherwise), so I just went with it.

 

As far as I can tell, the Peace Center seems to be home to a number of temporary exhibitions. The one in the ground floor at the time of our visit was “Klimalab,” which runs until January 2020, and is all about climate change. As you can probably see, it looked quite engaging and interactive, at least compared to the things at the Nobel Museum, and my hopes were high.

 

Even though some of the activities were definitely more orientated towards children (as was the content of the exhibit as a whole), I did enjoy walking through the giant bower bird nest pretending to be a bower bird (I do like blue things. Woo me with all the blue things. Also waffles), tasting the microgreens (spicy), and taking a pledge from the wall to reduce my food waste (there were also pledges to reduce emissions, among other things, but I probably already blew that by flying to Norway (also probably TMI, but my personal emissions are pretty high. I’m a gassy lady. I can’t help it.)). I can’t say it offered me any new insight into climate change, but it was fun.

  

The exhibition upstairs was much more serious in nature, and was called “The Body as a Battlefield”. It runs until November and is based on the work of Nobel Peace Laureates Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, who both work to combat sexual violence (Murad is herself a survivor of sexual violence, after being kidnapped by ISIS). Even though you were allowed to take pictures here, I didn’t feel it was quite appropriate, for obvious reasons. This was a very difficult exhibition to look at, but certainly an important one, though I’m sure it would be triggering for some people. In addition to talking about the work of Mukwege (who is a Congolese surgeon who reconstructs the bodies of women who have suffered horrific sexual abuse) and Murad, it also had stories from people who have been subjected to all kinds of sexual atrocities, which is why it was such hard reading at times. It was definitely worth seeing, horrible as it is to think that this sort of thing still happens every day all over the world.

 

After that intense exhibition, we somewhat gratefully headed into the permanent gallery featuring every Nobel Peace Prize winner since the prize was first awarded in 1901. The camera doesn’t quite capture it, but it was a very cool looking room, with loads of small lights and a tablet for each winner that you could scroll through to learn more about them. There were plenty of people I’d never heard of, but also famous names, like a few US presidents (though thankfully, still no Trump).

 

The final gallery contained a cute video explaining how the Nobel Peace Prize works. I’d never understood why the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, but all the others are in Stockholm. Apparently this is simply because Alfred Nobel specified this in his will. All the other prizes are awarded by Swedish institutions, but Nobel specifically wanted the Peace Prize to be awarded by the Norwegian national assembly – no one really knows why, as Norway and Sweden shared a government at the time of his death, but it may have been because Norway had a reputation as a more peaceful country, and an arbiter of disputes. Also, the medal itself was designed by Gustav Vigeland, who you may remember from the Vigeland Sculpture Park, so it may well be the coolest looking medal of the Nobel Prizes (if the baby fighter sculpture is anything to go by). Apparently there is also going to be an interactive storybook about Nobel in the museum at some point, but it wasn’t working yet at the time of our visit.

  

Whilst this wasn’t amazing or anything, and I definitely would have been annoyed if I’d paid 120 kr to get in, it was undoubtedly better than the one in Stockholm. At least the exhibitions were about important issues, and there were interactive parts that held my interest better than anything in Stockholm’s equivalent. It also helped that it was about 100x less crowded, probably because you had to pay to get in (you normally have to pay for the one in Stockholm too, but we went on an evening when it was free). And the shop had a lot of fair tradey stuff in it, if that’s your bag (and Nobel-themed t-shirts too, though my interest in those is limited). Not worth 120 kr, but if you’ve got an Oslo Pass anyway, it’s worth dropping in to see some of the temporary exhibitions, particularly the one on sexual violence. 2.5/5.

 

 

Oslo: Vigeland Sculpture Park and the Museum of Oslo

Located inside Oslo’s Frogner Park, Vigeland Sculpture Park contains over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, ranging from the mundane (father and child playing) to the truly bizarre (man fending off attacking babies, my personal favourite piece, as seen above). It is free to visit, and is located a short tram ride away from the centre of Oslo. It is also apparently open 24/7, but I dunno if I’d want to go there at night. Some of those babies were creepy enough in broad daylight.

 

There is actually a Vigeland Museum near the sculpture park where you can learn more about Vigeland’s life, and though I was certainly intrigued after seeing the sculptures, we ultimately decided to give it a miss in favour of some other museums. There isn’t really any information about the sculptures within the park itself, but after doing virtually no research about Vigeland and his life, I think I can still reasonably conclude just from looking at the sculpture park that he was fascinated by the human form, particularly the male human form. There are a lot of penises (penii?) on show.

 

I guess there isn’t really much to do here other than walk around and look at all the sculptures, but because they are so hella weird, it is well worth the effort. It is apparently Oslo’s top tourist attraction, and it was fairly busy even in the morning, so it might be wise to get here early if you want to be able to take photos without having to dodge all the people trying to imitate the people in the sculptures (which they do admittedly invite, as you can see I’m guilty of doing it too). 4/5.

Because there isn’t a lot to really say about the sculptures without learning more about Vigeland himself (I’ve got a lot of Oslo posts to churn out, so that’s not going to happen right now), other than that they are pleasingly odd (I do hope the woman above is hugging a pangolin rather than some sort of crustacean, but it was hard to tell. I would happily hug a pangolin, but would run screaming in extreme terror from any kind of giant crustacean. I have nightmares about that sort of thing), I am going to talk about the Museum of Oslo as well, as it is also located in Frogner Park (it’s a big park).

 

Admission to the Museum of Oslo is 90 kr (£9), but it was included in the Oslo Pass. I don’t think I would have paid to see it otherwise, since it was fairly small compared to other city museums I’ve been to, but we were pretty much the only visitors, which was nice after the noise of the park (the cafe was fairly busy though, probably because it was such an attractive building).

Almost everything in the ground floor level of the museum was translated into English, but almost nothing upstairs was – it’s like the translator ran out of steam halfway through. My favourite part of the museum was downstairs anyway, and was the display on Oslo in the 1970s. Why the 1970s? I don’t know, but it had that great toilet poster shown above (sadly not available in the gift shop), and a selection of wigs for dressing up (clothing too, but that was all child sized). They were also playing disco music, so you could boogie down in front of the projector screen with the other dancers (I forced Marcus to do the hustle with me against his will, but I don’t really know how to do the hustle, so we basically just bumped butts).

 

The rest of the downstairs section of the museum contained the history of Oslo (or Christiania as it was called until 1925) from roughly the Viking age to the early 20th century, with a skeleton and a few mildly interactive bits, including a hopscotch grid drawn out on the floor. The upstairs part looked a bit more fun, but unfortunately almost nothing here was in English. As far as I can tell, this contained the history of Oslo (properly Oslo) from the 20th century onward, with information about each of its districts, and quotes from people who lived in each one.

The upstairs also had a whole room full of creepy puppets that I think were from some children’s TV show, and you know I love a creepy puppet. I wish I could have actually learned something about them, but this section was only in Norwegian.

The final gallery of the museum contained a few mock-ups of kitchens through the ages, and then a temporary exhibition on pets, which again, had nothing in English, though I did enjoy the comfy stools scattered throughout, coated in very soft faux (I hope) fur. Overall, the museum was pleasant enough, and I enjoyed trying on the wigs (my head did itch afterwards, but no sign of lice yet, so I think it’s fine), but the lack of English in some of the galleries meant I didn’t get as much out of it as I perhaps could have. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way for this one – I suspect the Vigeland Museum might be the better bet if you’re in the Sculpture Park anyway, but as I haven’t been, I can’t say for sure. 2.5/5.

Oslo: The Viking Ship Museum and the Historical Museum

The other museum on Museum Peninsula (properly called Bygdøy) that was keeping me from my much-needed dinner was the Viking Ship Museum (actually, there are even more museums on the peninsula, including the Maritime Museum, but three ship museums was probably enough for one day). To be honest, I wasn’t that bothered about seeing the Viking Ship Museum, having already seen Vikingeskibsmuseet in Roskilde, and not being super interested in the Vikings at the best of times, and certainly not when I was tired, hangry, and pissed off about missing lefse, but Marcus wanted to see it, and I thought we might as well go when we were already on Museum Peninsula rather than having to make a special trip back.

 

Admission to the museum is 100 kr (or free with the Oslo Pass), and includes a ticket to the Historical Museum that is valid for 48 hours (confusingly, both the Viking Ship Museum and the Historical Museum are run by the Cultural History Museum, which is apparently not the same thing as the Norwegian Cultural History Museum, aka the Folkemuseum). Like almost every museum in Oslo, the Viking Ship Museum will eventually be moving to a new site, but that isn’t happening until 2025, and the museum is still fully open at its current site. It looks like the new museum will try to give a comprehensive history of the Viking Age, whilst the current museum is pretty much just about the ships. And despite the singular in the name, it is ships plural – three of them.

 

I was so past being done at this point that I basically walked around all the ships, and then sat down whilst Marcus took photos (as seen above). Other than the ships, the museum had some Viking artefacts in it, and it looked nicely laid out and labelled in English, albeit not terribly interactive. Although the ships here are in a much better state of preservation than the ones in Roskilde, Roskilde’s Vikingeskibsmuseet was definitely more fun, what with the dressing up and ship rides on offer. Since I only gave Roskilde 2.5/5, the Viking Ship Museum will have to be 2/5.

  

We also went (on a different day, thankfully!) to the Historical Museum, which is (you guessed it!) currently undergoing renovations (as you might be able to tell from the false façade stuck on the front), so only a small portion is currently open to the public. This included a temporary exhibition called “Collapse: Human Beings in an Unpredictable World,” a gallery on the Sami, and another on the Vikings, called VIKINGR.  From its name, I assumed “Collapse” would be mainly about climate change and ecological collapse, and there was some of that, but it seemed more like a general ethnographic exhibit, with a lot of artefacts from Oceania.

 

The Sami gallery was interesting, but fairly similar to what we’d seen at the Folkemuseum. At least everything here had an English translation, unlike the other ethnographic gallery about the native peoples of the Americas. However, I could see this sort of thing any time at the British Museum, so I wasn’t all that put out by not being able to read it.

 

Finally, there was VIKINGR, which was clearly redone relatively recently, and had a rather spartan feel, with loads of plain glass cases stuck in the middle of a somewhat bare room. The Cultural History Museum is known for having the only intact Viking helmet in the world, as seen above, which I guess is cool, but it’s just a helmet much like other helmets I’ve seen. The rest of the exhibition mainly consisted of swords and jewellery, with a skull or two thrown in. Eventually, this collection will be moved over to the new Viking Age Museum along with the Viking ships, which is perhaps why they didn’t appear to have spent much money doing up the space it’s in now.

 

In conjunction with VIKINGR, there was a small display of contemporary art inspired by the Vikings, primarily using the theme of migration (not so much the raping and pillaging). This was probably the most enjoyable part of the museum for me – I really liked all those silhouetted heads (sil-you-ette, as Bert the chimney sweep would say), which you were encouraged to move back and forth by their wooden dowels. There was also a collage, and the mysterious upside-down “Visas and Green Cards” neon sign (there was definitely more of an explanation on the label, but I can’t remember what it was).

 

I would not have paid to see this museum in its current, much downgraded state (the building is clearly huge and gorgeous, but only a fraction of it is currently being utilised due to the renovations), but it was free with the Oslo Pass and included with the Viking Ship Museum ticket, and it helped us to escape a torrential downpour (and had lockers to put our bags in, since we were headed to the bus station immediately after. Yes, bus. The train lines to Gothenburg were all down, so we had the fun of a four hour bus ride there instead. Not ideal for someone who gets motion sickness as badly as I do, since all I could do was stare out the window trying not to puke. In retrospect, we probably should have researched this trip better). 1.5/5 in its current state. By the way, please don’t think this is the end of Oslo – I’m skipping around a bit because both these museums had a Viking theme, so it made sense to combine them – there’s still lots more to come!