Museums: Old World, New World

Today is  World Museum Day – what you didn’t know? Well you do now!  So I was going to write something profound like the  Top 5 Museums of New Zealand  or Weird and Wacky Museums I Have Known. But instead I got to thinking about the broad range of places I’ve been to that have called themselves “museums”. I’ve been to the traditional of course, the specialist, the expensive, the free, the theme park museums, and the traditional.

And I realised something. Museums in “newer” countries are different from ones in the “old world”. And the newer the country to western settlement, the more different the museums.

Lets take two extremes: France and New Zealand. Why those two? Because I have the relevant photos and video – OK!

France is arguably the cradle of Western Civilization. France has hosted an awful lot of art and artists over the centuries. The city of Paris dates back to pre-historic times, and you can easily find castles and building dating back centuries.

New Zealand is a little younger. A  whole lot younger, even the Maori didn’t make it here until the last 1000 years. The white men (yup they were mainly men) started dropping by from the late 1700’s – but Wellington didn’t really become a town until the 1830’s. The people who came to New Zealand enduring a sea journey of months which makes today’s whinging about 24 hours on a plane as beyond pathetic. They didn’t bring a lot of Great Art with them. And when they got here they were a little preoccupied with staying alive, to actually make a lot of Great Art.

So what lets take a look at the contrasts:

New World Museum: Te Papa, Wellington, New Zealand

New World Museum Te Papa Wellington New Zealand

New World Museum Te Papa Wellington New Zealand

Website: Te Papa

Open: 365 days a year

Entry Cost: Free, some temporary exhibits have a charge.

Located: Hard to miss right on the waterfront – the whole area is worth a good wander around – on a nice day. There is a weekly market in Te Papa’s outside car park on Saturdays.

Onsite eating: A large cafe downstairs, and a smaller bar/cafe upstairs. Not bad food at a reasonable price.

Museum shop: Recommended, not cheap, but some quality NZ souvenirs here.

How Old? Actually the first “Colonial Museum” was founded in 1865, but the current building dates from 1998. Its built on Wellington’s earthquake prone water front and features cutting edge technology which allows it to survive both an earthquake an a Tsunami.

What’s To See? Well a lot of the old pictures are not on display, instead you’ll find a lot of interactive displays which feature video and  tell the story of New Zealand and New Zealanders. A lot of the space is very low light – so I couldn’t get decent photos (yes cameras are allowed, not flash) – the  antipodean UV count is VERY unfriendly for almost anything involving paint, paper, textiles etc.

Check it out in this video:

Old World Museum: Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Louvre Entrance Hall, Below the Glass Pyramid

Louvre Entrance Hall, Below the Glass Pyramid

Website: Musee du Louvre

Open: 9am-6pm – not Tuesdays! Yeah amazing – one of the world’s busiest museums and its still closed 1 day out of 7!  Also closed 1 May, 25 December and 1 January

Cost: E10 + E11 for the Napoleon Hall. Free on the first Sunday of the month plus the 14 July.

Onsite Eating: 15 cafes apparently! I think we found the cheapest one in “Les Cafes de la Pyramide” which cater for that odd thing of just grabbing sandwich for lunch and paying less than E50 for the meal! It was a classy cafeteria I must admit.

Museum Shop: Several – but I wasn’t impressed with the bookshop to be honest. Lots of books and nothing much else – all very expensive. I guess if you have a huge interest in art and art history it would be the place for you.

How Old? Actually this was the second time I’d been to the Louvre, my partner wanted to go, so I tagged along. The first time, back in 1988, two things made an impression – the impressive glass pyramid at the entrance which had opened the day before, and the walk through the historic Louvre, in the basement which includes part of the original medieval palace that the 17th century palace (the current building) was built on top of.

What’s To See? Oh some old statues and quite a few paintings, that Mona Lisa one didn’t impress much, but I do like the Dutch School. Actually I’m not a total ignoramous, and yes I do know some art history (and its well worth doing some back ground reading if you don’t). But the curious thing about the Louvre, the vast majority of the collections have nothing to do with France – Greece, yup, Germany, yup, Spain yes, Netherlands, definitely. Sure there are some French exhibits obviously, but this is a museum about European art – not about the development of France.

Check out the video – and yes I was just about as entranced by the snowfall outside as that art inside:

I think museums have evolved, the Louvre is one of the most traditional that there are. I am sure that most of the displays were exactly the same today as when I first went in 1988. Its static, very impressive, if overwhelming, but static.

Te Papa, I must admit, I hadn’t been around the standard exhibitions for a couple of years. I grabbed my camera to take the photos used in the video above, and noticed that a good percentage of the displays had changed since I’d last seen it. There is a core of maybe 50% which are always there, but a lot changes, and going back after a few years, you will see new things.

And its modern,  the photo of the multi-video screens, caught my eye, because it was news episodes from the 1980’s when New Zealand went from one of the world’s most controlled economies, to one of the most liberal, in a couple of years. I remember that!

Also on a weekday, outside of school holidays, outside of the tourist season, most the visitors appeared to be New Zealanders. And it wasn’t crowded, and there were no queues.  I can’t even imagine how crowded the Louvre is in July!

What do you think? What type of museum do you prefer to see when you travel? Or do you skip them all together?


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