Friday, October 7, 2011

Blockbuster exhibitions are still here

I found myself quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday on the subject of where museums should draw the line on popularist exhibitions. This has become particularly focused at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney where the recent ABBA exhibition has now been followed by one on the Wiggles with a major Harry Potter exhibition not far behind. Where should that line be drawn?

Check out my previous blogs on visitor numbers as a chart of success, how to keep those blockbuster visitors coming back, and the pros and cons of blockbusters The comments in the latter blog from Liverpool’s David Fleming are still very much relevant (financial benefits against potential dumbing down of the museum).

With Tutankhamen numbers at the Melbourne Museum already reaching an astonishing 650,000, the financial benefit to the Museum should be significant. The issue may be that there are only so many such exhibitions like this to go round, and one has to ask what comes next, after the progressively increasing success of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series ( Pompeii in 2009, Titanic in 2010 and now Tutankhamen in 2011).

But the reality is that blockbusters are here to stay, and although we may say there is perhaps more curatorial merit in a Tutankhamen exhibition than one on the Princess of Wales’ wedding dress (one of the Powerhouse’s recent successes), both reflect popular cultural interest. Indeed far from looking down our noses at the latter, it is interesting to reflect that the most successful exhibition in the V&A’s history was, wait for it, an exhibition of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ wedding presents in 1863!

Check out an interesting article that Giles Waterfield wrote on the subject in The Art Newspaper earlier this year (The death of the mega exhibition has been predicted for years. So why is it still very much alive?)

And a visit to the Powerhouse last week confirmed the place is currently buzzing with people (and strollers) visiting the Wiggles. Meanwhile the excellent Love Lace exhibition close to it was certainly attracting an audience that might not otherwise have been exposed to it. The popular and scholarly appeared to be working alongside each other.

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