Exhibitions and cinema – a match made in heaven?
The best museums are always challenging themselves to reach out to audiences in new ways. This involves breaking down barriers which prevent people from engaging. One of the main barriers is geographic. Potential visitors say they don’t come to the museum because it’s too far away. Borrowing an idea from theatre and opera, the British Museum has pioneered live cinema broadcasts to help overcome this barrier.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to catch Vikings Live at my local Adelaide cinema. I was really interested in the concept of an exhibition being shown in a cinema and what sort of experience the audience would have. The British Museum describes it as an “exclusive private view of the exhibition”. It screened live in the UK on 24th April and is now being repeated for international audiences.
So was it any good?
I’m going to say this up front. This wasn’t any better or any worse than going to see an exhibition in person; it’s just different. The screening lasted 90 minutes and had the feel of a high-quality BBC documentary. A bit like Springwatch, but in a museum! It was divided into themes such as ships, women and homelands, just like sections in an exhibition. Overall, I found the content very entertaining and got a lot from it. I thought it was brave of the British Museum to try something so far outside the comfort zone of a museum. Let’s face it, most curators aren’t great in front of a camera and don’t have a Scooby-Doo about producing content for cinemas. I can only imagine how much work went into it.
The best bits:
- It made the British Museum look super cool. Anyone watching must have been thinking about how they can visit in person.
- Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGegor giving the background to the exhibition. It really helped me place the exhibition in the landscape of current international research and partnerships.
- The strong focus on the recent finds gave an up-to-date understanding of Viking culture.
- I loved seeing the replica ship made by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.
The not so good:
- I felt my experience of the event was less enjoyable than those who got the chance to watch it live. The British Museum did a really good job on social media creating a bit of a ‘hype’ for the live-viewing. The audience felt as if they were part of something really special. For example, you could ask questions which were answered towards the end of the screening. Watching it several weeks later in Australia felt a bit lonely. There wasn’t that buzz on my twitter timeline making me feel as if I was part of something bigger.
- I have some doubt about if audience expectations were met. The publicity described it as a “guided tour”, but it was really more of a documentary. There were lots of interviews with experts and not so much close-up focus on all the objects. Some special items were highlighted, but the comments on this British Museum blog post show that some people were expecting to see more of the objects. This didn’t bother me, but then again, unlike most people I’m lucky enough to be visiting the exhibition later this month.
- Cringe moment – the curator of the exhibition dressing up as a sweaty Viking. Come on Gareth, I’ll admit you were good but while your armour may give a +3 defense, overall it was a -5 for the cool-factor.
Talking about dressing up as a Viking… there’s a great little bit on the website where you can ‘Viking Yourself’ by covering a photo in blingy objects from the exhibition. How could I resit?
In the eternal quest for museum understanding and knowledge, I’ll be visiting the Vikings exhibition in person (in actual London) at the end of June. Watch this space for my thoughts on how it compares with the cinema screening.
Bye for now…