It’s little more than a fortnight since the Ancient Worlds displays opened and we’ve already had our second party of international visitors. Last week museum professionals from Malmo Museum came to the Manchester Museum. Menaka Monro, Learning Manager, Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and the Sudan, and I showed them round the new galleries. They are planning new displays of their own and were on a fact-finding mission to see new developments in the UK. They’d already spent some time in London and were flying back to Sweden the same evening.
The photos show the third gallery of Ancient Worlds, which takes a different approach to displaying material. Whilst we always wanted to show more of the collections the third gallery was an opportunity to present dense displays of lots of objects that have an aesthetic impact.
You get a flavour of that approach from this photo showing Menaka talking to the visitors in front of what has become known as the ‘death by shabtis case’. This is one of the most visually stunning cases in the third gallery. Tiers of brightly-coloured shabtis fill the case. Although this image doesn’t do it justice, from a distance the lighting makes it look as though there is no glass.
The impact of this case is very much an aesthetic one and some visitors have commented that it looks like an art college display. Objects can be shown in many different ways, and whilst there is text for the shabtis in the case as a group there was no need to label each and every example. If further information is needed it can be accessed via a code using a mobile device. The same approach has been taken with the lamps, glass vessels and jewellery to name but a few also displayed in the third gallery. And of course it allows us to bring out many more items previously in storage than would otherwise have been possible.
The visitors also tried out the Haptic in the third gallery. This is an advanced prototype that enables visually-impaired visitors to interact with objects in a tactile way. One of the objects is the Museum’s ‘Odysseus in the Cyclops’ cave’ pot. The Haptic allows the visitor to move a censor across the body of the pot and to feel the body of the pot, for instance the turn of the shoulder or the projection of the footring. It also calls up other information. The development of the Haptic was generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos foundation.
I think our Swedish colleagues went away with a positive impression of the new galleries. It’s great to maintain the relationship with the Malmo Museum.