Natural History Museum & Liberate the gallery!

After leaving Kensington Gardens, my journey back to the concrete jungle took me down Exhibition Road and The Natural History Museum, where I spotted something beautifully out of place. Isn’t that oxymoronic?

Set on the small lawn at the front of the impressive and iconic building, an exhibition of 80 classic images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition are being displayed free of charge for the public. I remember attending at least one of these exhibitions inside the museum, with paid entry. This in mind, with the calibre of the images being shown for free, I would encourage anybody in the area to have a wander around the displays. Even if going eyeball-to-eyeball with a snapper isn’t your thing, there are beautiful macros, sweeping environments and a fiesta of colours to tickle your fancy.

Yet impressive as they are, I could not help but think about the nature (pun unintended!) of conventional exhibitions and their etiquette. Outside in Kensington, lunchtime and people are handing out packed lunches on the surrounding benches, this is not the average gallery space. What struck me most about the experience, was the sound. Like myself, people were generally wandering in from two directions and proceeded to meander quite leisurely around the displays- so far, quite conventional (milling around until we find something that catches our eye).

Yet it was my next observation that I found so fantastically engaging and seductively social, that I couldn’t help but smile. Groups of people were calling out to each other from across the ‘gallery space’ in shrieks of excitement or cajoling their friends to come and see this one, because it was so much cuter than the others. Talk about liberating! Instead of what might have been hushed whispering within a confined space, viewers felt comfortable transforming their experience into a shared one, exposing their thoughts and reactions most publicly. Whether this was encouraged to some degree due to the noise already present in the outdoor environment, it was a real pleasure to hear families and groups (native or foreign) audibly enjoying the work on display without feeling inhibited by an established mode of behaviour. Adults were reading the captions aloud in discussion. Children were curious and engaged, peering around each corner to see what they would find next. All in what for all intents and purposes, was a gallery. 

I wonder what would happen if the Tate played background street noise in their galleries. Would people talk more? Since when did we have to be silent to appreciate and more importantly, enjoy something we look at? Maybe this is my shared and social approach to art and design being overly idealistic, but if a simple change in venue can foster more communication and emotion between art and audience, then I’m all for throwing open the windows and doors.

Link to the Natural History Museum’s exhibition page here
(Really, don’t let my monologuing put you off. The pictures are beautiful and inspiring. Just don’t expect silence. Take a friend and you’ll see what I mean)

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