August 1, 2008

Remembering an Exhibit

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A while back, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History had an exhibit about Stabiae, called In Stabiano. (Stabiae was a small resort town near Pompeii and Herculaneum when Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E.) The exhibit was widely advertised on television and online. I managed to be in Washington, DC, on a business trip shortly after the exhibit opened in 2005.

The Smithsonian is supposed to be one of the best museums in the U.S. The Natural History Museum was my favorite place when I was little.

I was very disappointed. The artifacts were shown in a sterile environment. The exhibit’s focus was centered around showing the architecture and the amazing quality of the finds. I only remember one plaque that mentioned the name of the person who owned the villa and it briefly mentioned the person’s name, status, family members, and a little about where he was stationed. If that information is known then why wasn’t it used to create a connection for the viewing audience?

How can people relate to artifacts without knowing how the artifacts were used and *who* used them? The exhibit did not tell a story; it was a sterile display of items to be admired like artwork devoid of cultural context.

The exhibit book, on the other hand, is fantastic and makes up for the disappointment from the exhibit itself. My advice? Skip the exhibit and get the book.

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