Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Thoughts on museum appearances.

I'm not entirely sure about the point/structure of this. However, I did need to dump these thoughts and I also definitely needed to kick myself in the pants and get back into thinking about this sort of stuff and recording it in this medium.

During my lunchtime break I went for a walk along the river here, where the boardwalk looks up into the development site of the renovated State Library of Queensland, and the new Gallery of Modern Art. It looks amazing, and classy. It makes the old Art Gallery and Museum buildings look like embarrassing blocks of cement. Which.. they are. Up until recently it was sort of easy to ignore how dated the buildings in the cultural centre look, because there wasn't anything newer in the vicinity to compare it to. Then the front of the museum had a big glass entrance and new foyer tacked on, which sort of looks like someone putting a blonde wig on a pitbull. But the GOMA/SLQ development is going to really unbalance everything. Don't get me wrong, both are fantastic.. but it's really going to be a downer coming into the Museum from over in the new section of the precinct, once it's finished.

The QM really is unfortunate with its drab building. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to be in an older building if the style was more in the way of the Australian Museum, for instance. I think the outside of a Museum does a lot to attract or repel crowds - despite the fact we're always told not to judge a book by its cover, a lovely open glass building will always look more interesting, evocative and draw more people in than a square lump of cement. Although, this could be just painting the museum-going public with a very broad brush. Many people will come to a museum regardless of its looks if they are really interested in the subject/content, if they are desperate for somewhere to take their kids, if they just love going to museums no matter what, etc & etc. I do see the influence a museum's structure has on visitors, though, and while it might not turn people away the majority of the time, I do believe it colours their perceptions and recollections of their visit/s. For instance, I love the aesthetic and layout of the Melbourne Museum and it greatly heightens my enjoyment every time I visit. And despite their similar outward appearances, I actually enjoy visiting the Queensland Art Gallery moreso than the Queensland Museum because their internal spaces are utilised differently, and the lighting in the Art Gallery means you feel less like you're skulking around inside a cardboard box.

But, as drab and embarrassing as the outside (and some of the inside!) of the QM can be, we're fortunate as a museum institution. Regardless of any gripes I may have about anything here, we're lucky to have what we do. We have an operating budget, temperature regulated storage areas, proper storage and packing materials, reasonably well-maintained (if slightly out of date) display areas, security, visitor assistance staff, computers, phones, etc etc. There are many small museums in Australia and the Pacific region that don't have decent enough buildings, let alone the money or staff to maintain them. A lot of Pacific Islands museums with collections that rely on temperature regulation for their preservation are in poor conditions because air conditioners are broken or non-existent. Collections might often have parts stolen, and displays be vastly out of date or even have sections missing.

There is a broad spectrum when you look at the state of museums the world over. They range from small to large, well-funded to struggling, interesting to poorly themed - but I think it's terrific to have them all, regardless of how they look. I'm happy my Museum exisits, and hope it continues to (and hopefully thrive!) for years to come, regardless of how boring it looks when you see it from the other side of the street. My wistful stares at the new museum up the river will continue until December, until I can see whether or not the gorgeous new space they have is being used satisfactorily.