Tag Archives: Exhibitions

Exhibit Label Lessons, or Be Like Liedtke

Curator’s Comment, Part the First: Beverly Serrell, in her opening paragraph to Chapter 6, said exhibit labels should provide, “information about objects accessible to visitors with different backgrounds and interests.” This may not be what she had in mind (even if it might be effective):

'Art rhetoric' - 'Normal language'


Curator’s Comment, Part the Second: Or you could skip all that layering and just write compelling, provocative labels, like Walter Liedtke, who died tragically last year, did. Here’s his label for the Merrymakers at Shrovetide:

Interactive Museum Hologram is Too Historically Accurate

Fine for late-night NBC, but maybe a wee NSFW

Comedians Give Tour of Portland Art Museum, or This is the Next Room Full of Paintings

Sure, Objects Speak For Themselves…

I Think You’re Not Supposed to Be Doing That, Bro, or The Ultimate Art Gallery Interactive



The New Wing (Or That Sagredo Bed)

Actually By Robert Benchley

Originally Published in The New Yorker, May 15, 1926 and reprinted in Benchley Beside Himself (1943)

Curator’s Comment: Where appropriate, hotlinks have been added  below because they didn’t exist in 1926. But if they had been, we feel certain Professor Benchley would have used them.

Professor Benchley

Apart from his exhibition reviews, Professor Benchley was also famous for his subtlety at product placement.

Although the new wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Wing K,” if that makes it any easier for you) was opened some time ago, I have only just this week got around to inspecting it. I’m sorry.

“Wing K” has, since 1916, been empty, and, although passers-by late at night have often reported strange noises coming from its vast recesses, the Museum officials stubbornly maintain that it has been put to absolutely no use at all. This sounds a little fishy to me, however, and if those old walls could talk we might learn a little something more about where Mr. Munsey’s money went. It is said that only a couple of hundred dollars remain of all the millions that he bequeathed to the Museum. Money doesn’t fly away, you know.

At any rate, “Wing K” is full now and it takes a good twenty minutes of fast walking to see everything in it. This does not include the time taken up in getting lost or in walking through the same hall twice.

My inspection was somewhat hampered by having Mr. Charles MacGreggor along with me. Mr. MacGreggor kept constantly asking to see Dr. Crippen. “I want to see Dr. Crippen,” he would say, or “Where is Dr. Crippen?” I told him that the wax-works were in another wing of the Museum, but someone had told him that a replica of Dr. Crippen was to be found in wing K” and nothing would do but he must see it. Along toward the end, as Mr. MacGreggor got tired and cross, he began sniveling and crying, “I want to see Dr. Crippen” so loudly that an attendant put us out. So we probably missed some of the funniest parts of the exhibit. If you want me to I will go up again sometime without Mr. MacGreggor. Or maybe Dr. Crippen is there, after all.

The feature of the new wing is, of course, the Bedroom from the Palazzo Sagredo at Venice. The best way that I can describe it is to say that it is fully twice the size of our guest room in Scarsdale, and fifty per cent fancier. The chief point in favor of our guest room in Scarsdale is that there isn’t a whole troop of people strolling through it at all hours of the day, peeking under the bed and asking questions about it. If you want to sleep after nine in the morning in Scarsdale you can do it without being made an exhibition of. My two little boys may romp into the room three or four times during the morning to show you an engine or a snake, but all that you have to do is to tell them to get the hell out or you will tell me on them.

The owner of the Palazzo Sagredo was a great cupid fancier. Over the doorway to the alcove where the bed is, there are over a dozen great, big cupids stuck on the wall, like mosquitoes in a summer hotel. They are heavy, hulking things and seem to have fulfilled no good purpose except possibly to confuse any guest who may have retired to the fancy bed with a snootful of good red Sagredo wine. To awaken from the first heavy sleep of a Venetian bun and see fifteen life-sized cupids dangling from the doorway must have been an experience to send the eighteenth-century guest into a set of early eighteenth-century or late seventeenth-century heebies. The comic strip on the ceiling is catalogued as “Diziani’s Dawn.” It may very well be.

This, in a general way, covers pretty well the Bedroom from the Palazzo Sagredo. In another month the Gideons will have slipped a Bible onto the table by the bed and it will be ready for occupancy, but not by me, thank you.

Walking rapidly through the rest of the new wing, you come to lots of things in cases which, frankly, do not look very interesting. There is a bit of sculpture labeled “Head of Zeus(?)” showing that even the Museum officials don’t know whom it is meant to represent. Under the circumstances, it seems as if they might have cheated a little and thrown a bluff by just calling it arbitrarily “Head of Zeus” without the question mark. Certainly no one could have called them on it, and it would have made them seem a little less afraid to take a chance. Suppose that it turned out not to be Zeus. What is the worst that could happen to them?

Then, too, there is “A Relief from a Roman Sarcophagus.” As we remember Roman sarcophagi, anything would be a relief from them.

We could go on like this for page after page making wise-cracks about the various uninteresting features of the new wing, but perhaps you have already got the idea. It may have been the absence of Dr. Crippen, or it may have been a new pair of shoes, but the truth is that we weren’t put out of the new wing. We asked an attendant how to get out. And here we are.

We Need Interpreters For Our Interpretation

Even our use of the word “interpretation” is foreign to most of our visitors.


Shell-Sponsored Museum Exhibit Claims Oil is Birds’ Version of Wine

Actually From The Daily Mash


BIRDS love to drink crude oil with their supper, according to a Science Museum display sponsored by Shell.

The oil company denies the display entitled Oil: Useful and Delicious manipulates scientific fact to further its corporate agenda. The exhibit shows stuffed cormorants sipping oil from fluted glasses while using a coastal oil slick as a kind of hot tub.

A Shell spokesman said: “Birds and fish love drinking oil, it makes them feel pleasantly intoxicated and more sociable. Nature loves nothing more than an ‘oil party’.

“So spilling it is an act of generosity.”

The corporation has announced its next Science Museum exhibition will be Fairies, Werewolves and Climate Change, an examination of how the gullible can be manipulated into believing in far-fetched things.

An Honest Docent

If you’ve ever served as a docent or interpreter, you’ve wanted to say some or all of this.

Museum’s Audio Guide Informs Visitors How Much More They Getting Out Of Experience Than Others

Actually From The Onion

Vol 50 Issue 44.

CHICAGO—In addition to providing background and analysis of the artwork on display, the audio guide for the Surrealists exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago reminded visitors this week how much richer of an experience they were receiving than was everyone else, sources confirmed. “Dali was heavily influenced by Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams and often wrote down his dreams in a notebook, a fact that those passing through this exhibit without an audio guide are woefully unaware of,” the recording reportedly said before inviting listeners to turn their attention to a nearby Marcel Duchamp work whose nuances would “only truly be understood” by those listening to the prerecorded narration. “And if you look to your left, you will notice a number of attendees who are appreciating Yves Tanguy’s The Rapidity Of Sleep far less than you are. Their lack of a portable audio device—and therefore insight into the prominent political movements during the period or the importance of Andre Breton’s artist collective—renders them incapable of grasping the true brilliance behind Tanguy’s post-war output.” Sources added that the museum’s members received a special audio track that mentioned no art at all and instead provided wearers with an 80-minute continuous stream of praise.

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