Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Neues Museum. What can I say?

At first glance this post may seem a bit off, considering the subject of this blog. But actually, it is right in line with the topics otherwise presented here. Craftsmanship. Art. Creativity. So if you have a few minutes to spare, and especially if you are interested in archaeology, I hope you will read what I have to say.

The Neues Museum in Berlin was severely damaged in WW2, but has now been restored and opened to the public. The size of the museum is impressive to say the least, and if you are planning a visit I'd recommend you not to plan on doing much else during that day, since it will definitely take a lot of time to go through. Which is marvellous, yay! A whole day spent around gorgeous archaeological artifacts! *happy dance*

As we walked into this impressive building we were struck by the simple things that makes a visit so much more pleasurable. Like the audio guide which is included in the entrance fee. And like being able to put your coat in a looked after wardrobe for free. So the museum went off to a really good start!

Unfortunately I can't say that the exhibitions were equally impressive. Now don't get me wrong, the items displayed are truly magnificent! So before I get into the problems give me a minute to ramble about the upside of the Neues Museum...The Egyptian section especially contains artifacts that display an astounding degree of craftsmanship. It was truly inspiring, both for me as an archaeologist and as a crafts enthusiast, to see such amazing work! All those faces, of people long gone, created by the hands of craftsmen (or rather, artists!) give me the chills...In a good way, for sure!

Marcus and I also found ourselves fascinated by the different techniques employed by the craftsmen. Neither of us have studied egyptology so our prior knowledge of this specific field is limited, but based on that limited knowledge and our own experiences we just had to play the guessing game. Had it been carved from solid rock? Had it been sculpted from clay? Had it it fact been molded? Marcus especially is very interested in the possibilites of the ancient egyptians molding "rock"... And I think he should post something about it, because I really can't explain the details.

Now, lets talk about Nefertiti. Yeah. Nefertiti. What can I say? Nefertiti. NEFERTITI.

The famous bust of Nefertiti was amazing. Usually when I view great archaeological artifacts I feel an intense happiness, like I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But when I saw the bust of Nefertiti, I almost cried. Yes, to my own surprise, it really moved me. Both as an artifact and a piece of art. But woah, I really wasn't prepared for that!

Now for the not so uplifting part of this post. If you don't feel like reading negative critique then I suggest you stop here.

The audio guide, which seemed so very handy and great, turned out to be a huge disappointment. After a while I didn't even care about listening. And when I did listen I tended to get a bit upset.

Look at our gorgeous collection! What piece of art this is! Art history this, art history that. Art art art.


This man wrote a book about this. And this. Another man wrote this book. And this man discovered this. And then he discovered this. While writing this. Oh look, here's a great work of art. It was found by this guy, who then gave it to us! Us! Yes, he gave it to us! Aren't we great?

And then there were the instances when I got really irritated. On a wall, there were a whole bunch of scultped faces, all very similar. Very regal. The audio guide enthusiastically talked about how interesting they were, how good the artist was and what they said about style and art history. On the wall right next to them were another collection of faces. They were absolutely breathtaking, all individual, all spectacularly realistic. I felt like I was standing face to face with the real ancient Egyptians! Beeeaaauuutiful!

Then what did the audio guide have to say about them? Of course, the faces were clearly individuals, in contrast to the royal examples on the other wall. Since they were soooo different from the royal artwork the guide concluded that these were much less high standing. In fact, they barely qualifies as art.

Are you kidding me?! Barely qualifies as art?! But hold on, there is more! In contrast to the much appreciated royal artwork, there were "old, ugly and unhappy". I'm not joking, that's what the audio described them as. Old, ugly and unhappy!!!  But Oh My God these were amongst the most beautiful sculptures  I have ever seen! Old, ugly and unhappy?! Are you insane?!

Ok, just breathe...

To summarize... Based on the audio guide and most of the written information the Neues Museum isn't really interested in archaeology, despite being full of such amazing archaeological artifacts. But no, it's all about two things: Art history and the people who discovered the objects on display. No wait, three things: Art history,
the people who discovered the objects on display, and how great the Neues Museum is. In case you had missed it. And oh, I forgot to mention that the actual exhibitions, despite being brand new, appear to have been brought forth from the late 19th century. It was almost embarrassing... Old, ugly and unhappy. Yup, that's a good way of summarizing the Neues Museum. Old, ugly and unhappy.

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