Small is beautiful: maps and models in London exhibitions

I’ve written before about my dislike of blockbuster exhibitions so was interested to read this piece by Stephen Moss the other day about how the age of the blockbuster may be coming to an end.  It may be wishful thinking, but support for his view comes from some surprising places.

Ken Arnold, the creative force behind the Wellcome Collection, recently told me that ‘Blockbusters are a depressingly greedy way to view exhibitions’. Arnold criticised the idea that any institution would want to cover a subject so definitively it left no avenues for others to explore, and also bemoaned the very experience of a blockbuster, which is often so unfulfilling for the spectator, who is shunted in and out on a timed ticket, having only seconds to view key works of art from behind a throng of tourists and daytrippers.

Small exhibitions might not get the column inches and posters on the tube, but they are often far more thoughtful, unusual and creatively curated. There are two crackers on display in London at the moment, and I’ve reviewed both of them. The Petrified Music of Architecture at the Sir John Soane Museum is a wonderful collection of tiny Victorian models of European cathedrals – I wrote about it for the New Statesman.

The Hand-Drawn London exhibition at the Museum of London is even better. Curated by the Londonist website, it features 11 idiosyncratic maps of London drawn by locals, and is one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen for a while. I reviewed it for the Independent.

Go and see them both.

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3 responses to “Small is beautiful: maps and models in London exhibitions

  1. “a wonderful collection of tiny Victorian models of European cathedrals”. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather see. Thanks!

  2. Aw, thanks for the kind plug (again!).

    I’d possibly disagree with Ken’s comment that a blockbuster can ‘cover a subject so definitively it [leaves] no avenues for others to explore’. There’s always room for alternative angles on a subject…just needs a bit of imagination.

    As a small example, the British Library did a pretty thorough job on London mapping only a year ago, but our Museum of London exhibition tackles the same topic from a different angle.

    The major Darwin exhibition at NHM a couple of years ago was complemented by at least two other London exhibitions about the great man (with others around the country). Ditto Henry VIII.

    I have mixed feelings about blockbusters too, but I don’t think they inhibit other institutions from tackling the same subject in a different way.

  3. Good points M@. I think Ken was probably referring more to the visual art exhibitions that attempt to gather an artist’s entire output under one roof. Museum exhibitions are a slightly different proposition.

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