Yesterday I visited the newly expanded Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford. It has had over £61 million pounds spent on it using a new design strategy referred to as ‘Crossing Cultures Crossing Time’ which
‘is an approach based on the idea that civilisations that have shaped our modern societies developed as part of an interrelated world culture, rather than in isolation. It assumes, too, that every object has a story to tell, but these stories can best be uncovered by making appropriate comparisons and connections, tracing the journey of ideas and influences through the centuries and across continents.’
This seems like a reasonable premise for the design of museum showing many cultural objects from across space and through time, obviously Rick Mather has been reading his Deleuze and Guattari and rather liked their rhizome. However, in practice rather than showing the interconnectedness of the material culture of the world it creates a rambling journey of disjointed assemblages, one can easily become disorientated. Some parts of the Museum themselves, whilst having great collections of ‘stuff’, are more like alleyways than exhibition spaces and act to channel people along rather than letting you stop and look at the artefacts, we decided it was an experience not unlike visiting an Ikea store. But at least Ikea looks like a finished product, almost every room in the Ashmolean had a display which either was empty, had an object still sitting in it’s polystyrene packing, or having no information panel, granted it hasn’t had it’s official opening yet but this makes it look scrappy and uncared for. There are also strange design features, windows that disappear round corners, small openings one could almost squeeze through and open doorways that lead to small empty rooms.
However the actual things in the Museum are great, and many and the new extension has enabled more of the permanent collection to be on show which can only be a good thing. It’s just a shame the museum isn’t easier to navigate, maybe if I’d planned the route beforehand and maybe followed it via OpenStreetMap on my phone things would have been clearer but there wasn’t a signal in there and I don’t like to have to make a plan of attack in a museum, which maybe a fault of my own but I’m probably not alone.