December 30, 2010
For our parting post of 2010, I’m delighted to have Jaime Kopke as our guest blogger. Jaime founded the Denver Community Museum, a one-year pop-up experiment in community curation. She then spent a year in London earning a Master’s in curating contemporary design. Which gave her keen eyes for the new installation at Princess Di’s house...
Browsing through the comment book at the “Enchanted Palace,” an exhibit currently on show at Kensington Palace, I noticed two main sentiments: love and extreme dislike. I was in the former category, an enthusiastic fan.
“Enchanted Palace” is the Historic Royal Palaces’ answer to the challenges of a £12 million building renovation, one which has forced the closure of a large portion of the site. The exhibition will run through early 2012, when the rebuilding is complete.
Kensington Palace was the home to many of Britain’s famous princesses, including Queen Victoria and Diana, Princess of Wales. This exhibition tells the tales of seven of these royal inhabitants. Under the direction of the Cornwall-based theater company Wildworks, the building has been transformed into a magical, eerie, thoroughly fascinating space. Instead of following a linear timeline of the princesses’ lives, visitors encounter dramatic installations inspired by their stories. In each of the princesses’ rooms, historic artifacts are intertwined with contemporary artwork, handmade props, dramatic lighting and strange soundscapes. Drifting among the crowds are Wildworks’ storytellers, actors dressed in industrial-type gowns who engage — and sometimes bewilder — the audience.
Upon entering, visitors are given a hand-drawn map for the quest at hand: to discover the history behind each of the seven princesses. There are no labels on the walls to provide the answers. Instead, visitors are asked to explore one princess’s story at a time, to become enthralled, enamored, and in more cases than not, saddened by her touching tale. To help make the magic happen, the curators and Wildworks tapped into the talents of UK fashion designers, including Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Jones, William Tempest, Boudicca, and Aminaka Wilmont, and illustrator and set designer Echo Morgan. In the Room of Royal Sorrows, for example, a dress of tears created by Aminaka Wilmont is draped over the bed, marking the place where Mary II was unable to produce an heir. In a dark room nearby, a dress made of origami cranes hovers above an oversized bed, revealing Victoria’s childhood dreams of fleeing the palace.
It is this collaboration with contemporary designers and artists that helps make the show so successful. By creating a bridge to the present day, “Enchanted Palace” does more than liven up some dreary spaces; it evokes emotion and wonder. Museums partnering with artists is not a new concept, as Peter pointed out here recently. Increasingly, curators are giving over their spaces, programs and collections to artists for creative interventions. The result is usually an exciting new interpretation. ...
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Categories: History museums, Innovation, Museums, Visitor experience, Visual art