Day 63: Museum of Natural History, Dublin, Ireland
While we are on the topic of museums, today I would like to reminiscence about my 1999 trip to Dublin, where I visited many galleries and museums. One museum in particular stands out in my memory, the Museum of Natural History. This place has a great nickname, “The Dead Zoo” reflecting the wonderful sense of humour of the Irish.
The Natural History Museum in Dublin is the oldest museum in Ireland having been opened by Doctor David Livingstone in 1857. This museum is very engaging if only for the immense variety of “stuffed” subjects. There are animals from all around the world in the collection, and I was stunned by the size some of the Australian marsupials, which many must have been caught in the early days of European occupation, as we do not have kangaroos or wombats at the size represented in this collection anymore.
The collection is expansive with over 10,000 items on display and over 2 million in storage. That is a lot of stuffed animals, birds, reptiles and preserved insects.
There is great attention to detail to the exhibits in the collection. In reference to the above image from the Irish mammals collection:
One of a series of very popular exhibits was made by the Dublin taxidermy firm of Williams & Son. They produced ‘family groups’ of badgers, otters and pine martens. These mammals are characteristic of the Irish landscape. Badgers are active at night, seeking out pastureland where they feed on earthworms, as well as many other ingredients in a highly varied diet.
One of the things I love about visiting museums and galleries is many of them are free to visit – not the ones in New York, but many in Australia and other countries have free admission, such as the Dead Zoo.
The Museum of Natural History is centrally located on Merrion Street, Dublin 2, next door to the National Gallery. Use this Google map to find your way.
When I travelled to NYC in 1997, I spent two days wandering around the Met – as one day was not enough to see all the vast collections and galleries of this museum.
The museum’s permanent collection is massive, with artefacts from a range of significant periods in human history and a broad spectrum of cultures. There are many objects from Egyptian, Greek and Roman eras, as well as precious objects from Medieval times and paintings from the Baroque, Renaissance and Rococo periods of European art. Most of the cultures of the world are also represented with galleries focusing on Asian, Islamic and Melanesian art and artefacts.
The collection which I found most awesome in terms of size and scale was the Egyptian collection, which has case after case of precious objects. The website says:
The Museum’s collection of ancient Egyptian art consists of approximately twenty-six thousand objects of artistic, historical, and cultural importance, dating from the Paleolithic to the Roman period (ca. 300,000 B.C.–A.D. 4th century). More than half of the collection is derived from the Museum’s thirty-five years of archaeological work in Egypt, initiated in 1906 in response to increasing Western interest in the culture of ancient Egypt.
Here is an image of part of a pyramid that has been constructed inside the museum. This object for me was quite confronting as it represented so clearly that this culture and history had been removed from the original source of meaning. Of course, this could be said about so much of the collection at the Met, which leads one to consider whether the collections were founded by ethical means. Perhaps, for me there was a heightened awareness of the ethical dimension of the collection, given the context of the First People of Australia; as so many precious cultural objects and even human remains were taken without permission to be housed in collections around the world.
In the contemporary 21st century, indeed the role of collections like this are important as educational tools, but it is also necessary to consider how the collections were built in the first place. Ethical questioning aside, a trip to the Met is a very worthwhile day out, if only to be stunned by the sheer scale of this museum and its objects.
Day 60: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, United States of America
Today, I want to share a favourite place from a journey I took many years ago – to New York City (NYC). Back in 1997, I spent a couple of weeks in NYC and Buffalo, in upstate New York. It was my first journey to the USA and the first time I had travelled without my son, who was four years old at the time. For over a week, I traipsed around NYC, discovering the places that already seemed so familiar to me.
When I was growing up, I daydreamed about visiting this city: the colourful lights of Times Square, the steam rising from the footpath, Central Park and the many, many art galleries, museums and theatres. For some reason I was especially drawn to the architecture of the city, which seemed so futuristic, sleek and modern.
One of the places that I think is very special in NYC is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Designed by the great Frank Lloyd Wright, the buildings curved edges and spiral like design reflects both organic forms and modernist aesthetics. This text is from the website:
Even as it embraced nature, Wright’s design also expresses his unique take on modernist architecture’s rigid geometry. The building is a symphony of triangles, ovals, arcs, circles, and squares. Forms echo one another throughout: oval-shaped columns, for example, reiterate the geometry of the fountain and the stairwell of the Thannhauser Building. Circularity is the leitmotif, from the rotunda to the inlaid design of the terrazzo floors.
To walk through the building certainly makes you aware of the spiralling, circular nature of the structure. As you wind your way up the walkway, you can look at the art along the walls while being absorbed by the beauty of the geometrical forms of the building itself.
The art collection at the Guggenheim has all manner of modernist artworks and started out as the combination of a number of private collections. Over the years the collection has continued to grow, incorporating works from the 20th and 21st centuries. The website tells this story about the history of the collections development.
The story of the Guggenheim Museum is essentially the story of several very different private collections. Central among these are Solomon R. Guggenheim’s collection of nonobjective painting premised on a belief in the spiritual dimensions of pure abstraction; his niece Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of abstract and Surrealist painting and sculpture; Justin K. Thannhauser’s array of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early modern masterpieces; and Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo’s vast holdings of European and American Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, Environmental, and Conceptual art. These collections have been augmented over the last two decades by major gifts from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and The Bohen Foundation, as well as by the series of contemporary art commissions that was made possible by the Guggenheim’s unique partnership with Deutsche Bank for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, the distinct but complementary acquisitions program of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative. Together with numerous other important purchases and gifts secured by the Guggenheim’s directors and curators over the years, these acquisitions have contributed to the formation of a richly layered, international collection dating from the late 19th-century to the present.
Unlike most institutions dedicated to the visual arts, the Guggenheim does not divide itself into departments devoted to specific mediums or eras. Rather, the collection is conceived as an integrated whole that may be continuously enhanced in response to emerging talent as well as a mandate to fill in critical historical gaps.
Located on the upper east side on 5th Avenue (at 89th Street), it is worth walking up from mid-town just to check out the swish apartments and lifestyles of the rich and famous along the way.
Today, I am going back in time to our first journey to Turkey and a little adventure that we had when we were staying at the Babayan Culture House in Ibrahimpaşa, doing an artist residency.
We were starting to feel comfortable in Turkey and were yearning for an adventure, so we decided to hire a car. Marty bravely offered to be driver, which was no mean feat considering we would be driving on the right (wrong) side of the road.
The day started sedately, with a drive to the nearby Ihlara Valley, a beautiful location close to Nevşehir. After lunch we looked at the map and thought it would be nice to go a bit further afield, perhaps even as far as Çatal Höyük, which on the map only seemed a couple of hours away.
So off we drove. Some four hours later we still had over 100kms to go to reach Konya, so decided to try and stay somewhere there for the night.
Konya is famous as the home of the Mawlawi Order the followers of Rumi, who is well known in the west for his beautiful metaphorical verse. Here is a quote from one of my posts on Geokult:
Better known as many as the Whirling Dervishes, the Mawlawi Order are a Sufi order founded in Konya (in present-day Turkey) by the followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic jurist, and theologian.
One of the highlights of our earlier tour of Turkey, was going to the Mawlawi Museum, which is a beautiful place to visit, and a pilgrimage site for many Islamic people, who come to honour Mevlâna (Rumi) as his sarcophagus is located in the Mosque that is part of the museum.
What we didn’t account for was the size of Konya, when we had travelled through there a month earlier we thought it was a small regional centre. What we discovered was a bustling city of over one million inhabitants, making driving a challenge for Marty as he negotiated the road with trucks, scooters, cars, bikes and donkeys. We also got slightly lost driving around for another 2 hours until we found a motel.
But getting lost is just part of the fun of discovering new places. The next day we made it to Çatal Höyük, which was a fabulous place to visit and one I will explore in a later post.