July 23, 2010

Guess The Winner

This year I couldn’t fit in attendance at the European Museums Forum in Tampere (Finland) – though I will pay my third visit to that city in October. This week I received the two booklets that accompany the conference each year. The first contains all the candidates for the Museum of the Year Award (plus a couple of other special commendations) and the second features the winners and some analysis thereof.

Although I think I did know which won, I couldn’t remember when I got the booklets, so played a little guessing game I do each year. Study each museum candidate in the book (and using no other evidence) rate the submissions and guess which one I would nominate (with no ‘official’ criteria other than my own instincts and predilections). My list is as much places I should one day visit and even if I don’t they are places that make me feel positive just by knowing they exist. Guessing which one will actually win is of less interest because I think that the judging panel in the past at least have had a tendency to be swayed by fashion or politics: an eco-museum in Lapland or validation of museums in EU border states that fit into an agenda of de-coupling those nations from Russia or Islam. In this regard the continued westernisation of Turkey, with its ever-increasing annual tally of new museums, is a noticeable feature.

So from this year’s batch, which ones stand out for me ?:

Austria: Vienna – The Museum of Contraception and Abortion
Independent of pharmaceutical companies and government, while the museum looks worth a visit anyway, in the context of it functioning in a strongly Catholic environment and the rise of the fascist right in Austria (and many other places), it represents an almost heroic intellectual gesture.

Croatia: Zagreb: Typhlological Museum
(Greek Typhlos = blind). Museum of the Croatian Association of the Blind – among other things that stood out was the extension of the museum outside its walls – white tracks guide blind visitors to the entrance from all directions from the nearest tram stations in its neighbourhood.

Ireland: Carrick on Shannon: St.George’s Heritage and Visitor’s Centre
(no website given)
This one attracts me as much for the story it tells of the oppression and suffering of the local community under British rule, and especially the devastation of the Great Famine of 1847-9.

Netherlands: Amsterdam: Jewish Historical Museum
Although this one looks interesting in its own right, I have a politico-emotional response to this related to celebrating the first direct action against the Nazis' treatment of Jews:
'The Strike of February 1941' was a general strike organized during World War II in The Netherlands against the anti-Jewish activities of the Nazis. Its direct causes were the pogroms held by the Germans in the Jewish neighbourhood of Amsterdam. So visiting it would be an act of respect.

Portugal: Lisbon: Orient Museum
In the photos, this just looks like a great collection of Oriental Art.

Russia: St. Petersburg: Dostoevsky Literary-Memorial Museum
This is the renovation of Dostoevsky’s house into a museum, study centre and theatre for performances, music and poetry events.

Turning to the winners booklet, it turns out the European Museum of the Year is
Ozeaneum, in Stralsund, Germany (picture)

Special commendations went to the Museum of Natural Sciences, Brussels; The Science Gallery, Dublin, and the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam. The Council of Europe Prize went Portimao Museum, Portimao, Portugal and the Prix Micheletti went to Agbar Water Museum in Cornella de Llobregat, Spain.

European Museum Forum Website: http://www.europeanmuseumforum.org/
Meanwhile, many museums in the UK await the new government axe - we are entering a darker age.

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