Museums in Interesting Times

In Museums, Shanghai on June 3, 2011 by triotriotrio

On my recent trip to Shanghai I was able to squeeze in three museum visits. The Shanghai History Museum, Shanghai Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai – they represent three different types of museums and each one provided an invaluable insight to the life and culture of this vibrant city.

Shanghai Museum in the People's Square

Sometimes it is difficult for me as one who works in the museum field to separate my day-to-day job and vacation mode. I am often drawn to look at the touch screen capabilities of the collections’ monitor for example before I try to absorb the content of what is on the screen. But on this visit I was completely in vacation mode and I was able to focus on the museums as a place of knowledge and entertainment instead of trying to calibrate the visitor flow patterns.

In part I think it was because the environment of Shanghai is so strange to me that I was suffering of sensory overload. Every experience was memorable and different. When one is completely overwhelmed by what they are seeing, hearing, tasting smelling and feeling the brain must shut down and fall back to trying to understand only basic reflections?

But I was able to glean a great deal from my three visits. I hope you enjoy my insights and observations:

Cricket Fighting

The Shanghai History Museumis located at the iconic Pearl Tower. And even though the observation tower and gallery arcade are a complete madhouse – the History Museum was almost empty. Most visitors don’t visit this hidden gem. If there is one word to describe why I love this museum it is “dioramas.” The museum is set up in a chronological walk through of the history of the city of Shanghai. There are wonderful wax figures and full-scale backdrops. I love a completely immersive experience like this. And although some of the scenes are a little stylized or a gloss over version of history I didn’t mind. I always try to accept things for what they are and not what I would want them to be.

Shanghai Museum of History

The Shanghai Museum is the city’s premiere museum. I was especially excited to see this museum because I had done a great deal of research on it during graduate school. The museum represents the best of China’s past with the best of what China is offering to the modern world. It is a world-class museum in every sense from the signature architecture, smart gallery design and aesthetically pleasing interpretive text panels.

Shanghai Museum Courtyard

The galleries are divided into different material types such as costumes, jade, coins, calligraphy and furniture. Each gallery is filled with so many objects that it would be impossible to see everything in one day. I would recommend to anyone to focus on one subject of interest and try to concentrate there. And then repeat visit as many times as possible.

Mask from Tibet - Shanghai Museum

The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai was a delight. This is China today. They were hosting an exhibition of young artists. The idea behind the exhibition was questions. Each individual artist presented a piece that provoked a question and a possible response. I think that the show was especially effective because it was capturing young artists at the beginning of the career. This is often a time when one has a lot of questions about the present and the future. Jennifer was especially taken with a mannequin head filled with Barbie heads. I am not sure what the question or the answer was with this piece but it was certainly thought provoking.

MOCA Museum Shanghai

Three museums, one city, three different points of views – all illustrating a common idea of China in the modern world. China must be seen through all three lenses. It’s strong past, its emergence as a world powerhouse and a driving passion for the future.

I can’t help but think of what is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I believe we all are.

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