This is my 200th post. Woo-hoo? I feel like I should be doing something celebratory, but to be honest it kind of snuck up on me, and I’ve been feeling too apathetic lately to think of anything fun. So this is just a normal post, but the 200th one, in case anyone’s keeping track. Anyway, Hackney is not really the sort of place that I voluntarily choose to spend my time, which is why it’s taken me so long to get around to visiting the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, even though you all know how I love weird shit. However, I was planning on meeting my boyfriend later that day for drinks and pizza in Shoreditch (not a Shoreditch fan either, but Voodoo Ray’s is one of the few New York style pizza places I’ve found in London, and I will go out of my way for good (i.e. thin crust) pizza), so I reckoned I might as well head up early and see some curiosities, since the museum was only about a mile away from there.
And half a mile away from Bethnal Green, which is where I walked up from (seriously, why is the tube so bloody scarce in East London? I hate the Overground, and refuse to take it if there’s any kind of alternative. Not that half a mile is a particularly far walk; it’s the principle of the thing). It wasn’t a particularly pleasant walk, and the Victorian-esque storefront of the Viktor Wynd seemed distinctly out of place on such a utilitarian street; this certainly wasn’t the hipster heart of Hackney I’d been expecting. I was the only visitor in the middle of the afternoon, so I had plenty of time to explore the small space unencumbered by the bodies of fellow museum visitors.
The ground floor of the building is taken up by a bar/cafe (and your £4 admission fee includes a drink, of which more later), and the museum is accessed via a steep metal winding staircase to the basement. The lighting was quite dim down there, and some of the captions seemed to have been deliberately made difficult to read; you really had to work to see everything here. Though the gallery was not large, it was cram-jammed full of crap.
As best as I could make out, from both seeing the museum and leafing through his book afterwards, Viktor Wynd is a modern day collector/artist/professional weirdo who has, through some unspecified means, been able to afford to acquire an impressive load of junk over the years. Judging by the museum’s contents (and unfortunately for me, with all my phobias), he is partial to crabs, insects (including awful butterflies), erotica, books with stupid titles, and pieces of dead animals. He also seems to have a scatalogical fascination that made me laugh out loud at several points when reading his book. My description of him may sound like I wasn’t very impressed with his work (other than the poo-jokes), but I actually found his hand-written captions charming, and thought they were the best bit of the museum.
For example, the label on a huge hairball removed from a cow’s stomach and a few smaller bezoars mentioned how these objects had brought him an “unfathomable amount of joy and pleasure,” which I could totally relate to, as I am inordinately proud of my two-headed taxidermied duckling (named Herman and Samson) and the pickled pig’s heart in a jar that I just made. He is also attempting to start a collection of celebrity poo (though the only ones he appears to have so far are Kylie Minogue and Amy Winehouse’s, so they’ve obviously been sitting around for a while or, you know, the whole thing’s a bit tongue-in-cheek (ha); also there was a jar of disturbingly-coloured pee labelled as coming from “Russel Crow” (sic, or possibly it really did come from the non-famous “Russel Crow”)); apparently it’s a fiver for a smell, which he considers to be the best deal in the museum, as everyone else there will get a whiff for free.
In fact, he appears to be downright obsessed with celebrity fluids (emissions?), with a jar full of condoms allegedly used by the Rolling Stones (and Viagra, we’re talking recently), Madonna’s used pantyliner, and some pubes that may have belonged to Russell Brand. In case you haven’t figured it out, the museum is not for prudish people with weak stomachs; there’s also quite a lot of fairly graphic pornography hanging on the walls.
I haven’t got any kind of problem with that, but all the crabs were a bit much. There were crabs in nearly every case, and the worst of all was the giant spider crab that dominated the second part of the gallery. Not to mention the cases and cases of dead butterflies that hung along several of the walls. I had to just look down for that whole section, so I may well have missed something funny on the walls, but it was a risk I had to take. Fellow lepidopteraphobes should bear that in mind, and I’d also avoid the place on weekends if you’re arachnophobic, since they have a “petting zoo” with unusual animals including tarantulas and giant beetles (I love lizards and snakes, so I’d be totally down with handling them, but not at the risk that someone might stick a tarantula on my arm or something).
Also quite prominent was the giant gold hippo head that allegedly formerly belonged to drug lord Pablo Escobar. He ordered four hippos when he was building his drug palace, but one died in transit, so he had the skull gilded (the remaining hippos ended up breeding, and apparently there are like 30 hippos now running around Colombia somewhere).
I don’t know, for as small as this museum was, there was something kind of trashy and fabulous about it (in a Liberace sense, I guess), and those captions really did crack me up, so even though it was pretty teeny and full of scary things, I quite enjoyed myself. I get the impression that Viktor Wynd’s sense of humour is not unlike mine, so perhaps that’s why.
When I returned upstairs, after my sojourn into the bowels of the building (in more than one sense), the bartender asked me what I wanted to drink, since the museum admission comes with a tea or coffee, as I mentioned before. Because it was about a million degrees outside on the day I visited, and I am not sufficiently Anglicised to want to drink boiling hot tea in the summer, he was nice enough to offer me an icy cold cola from the hipster soda makers Square Root, which I enjoyed much more than a tea (though let’s face it, plain ol’ Cherry Coke is tastier than hipster soda, no matter what they try to infuse into it). However, I noticed on their website that I was supposed to get a tea AND biscuit. I’m not entirely sure I would have wanted to eat anything produced there (who am I kidding, I never turn down biscuits), but it would have been nice to have been offered one, though I guess I can’t complain too much as that soda probably cost more than the tea would have (I mean, it’s not like teabags are expensive). Anyway, I retreated to a corner of the comfy red velvet sofa in the cafe to enjoy my soda with a copy of Viktor Wynd’s book that the bartender gave me to leaf through, and a delightful taxidermied lion head and torso (with crown) that was seated next to me.
So I think reading his book might have helped me appreciate Mr. Wynd’s aesthetic a bit more. Apparently this museum wasn’t his first project, as he’s done other stuff around Hackney, but as far as I can tell, none of it is around anymore, which makes me think this museum might also only be a temporary incarnation until he comes up with a new idea. At any rate, the place was more or less what I was expecting, but I didn’t feel totally ripped off or anything, as I thought I might have (I was thinking about that awful Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York, which is along similar lines, but has nothing like as much stuff, and costs $10, which makes Viktor Wynd’s feel only mildly overpriced), perhaps getting the drink helped with that (though a biscuit would have helped even more! Seriously, just buy a damn packet of chocolate Hobnobs or something. Everybody likes a chocolate Hobnob). I am a strange person, so this was right up my alley (except all those damn crabs, why so many crabs and butterflies?!), and might be worth a visit if you can manage it at an off-time like I did (because it is small, for real) and you can also appreciate weird shit and an idiosyncratic sense of humour. 3.5/5.