At the natural history museum: the fine line between nature and art

I was this morning at the Naturkundemuseum in Berlin, and I admired once again the skull of the T-rex Tristan Otto. It was displayed under a set of lights that made a fascinating play of light and shadows on the dark fossilised bones.

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While I was drawing, many people of all ages ran to the display and stood in awe, observed it from different angles, took pictures, then moved forward for the visit. It is definitely a magnificient finding from a scientific viewpoint, as well as a visually appealing object. My mind first identified as a dinosaur skull, therefore as the remain of an animal who lived millions of years ago, when the Earth looked much different, there was no man, but the oceans and trees and reptiles and insects and all life, and the moon and sun above; but with time, while drawing, I started to see it as a sculpture, as a piece of art, as a monument to the exquisite art of chiseling, glorified by light – up to the extreme of flattening it onto paper, as an interesting set of shapes, lines, angles, proportions – abstract, essential, distilled.

These two viewpoints are valid for any other specimen in the exhibition, and for me, for everything I can see.  I sometimes stop and marvel over an accidental composition on my way home, or a ray of light. I went to the museum to see Tristan Otto, and I enjoyed the whole visit, but did I enjoy it only because it was carefully organised, cleverly connected, and artfully displayed, or because it had value in itself? Did I admire the most colourful animals because they are artistically pleasant? They did not come to life with the purpose to be ambassadors of the beauty of wildlife, but they can still be considered as such: through their beauty, they can awaken our admiration and make us want to protect them from threats and extinction. I feel a bit uneasy with this thought, however, because I’m afraid that what is not beautiful, or not attractively presented, does not get that much attention. I understand that attractive presentation is an essential feature of many human creations and activities, but I feel uneasy applying it to everything, especially to what has no power in improving its appearance.

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Visit to the Museum for Communication Berlin

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Some time ago I visited the Museum for Communication in Berlin, for the first time in many years that I live here. It was a pleasant experience: I was kept interested by the various ways in which the content was presented, the interactivity of the exhibition (especially in the first floor, with quizzes, robots, and various other funny art-like devices). I was not the only one having fun: there were two groups of children, who ran across the museum in detective suits, looking for specific items and solving riddles, following a tour designed by the museum. As children learn and remember by doing, I find that this kind of tour was a terrific idea to let them have fun and be active during the exploration of the museum.

There was definitely a lot to see! I was especially fascinated by the ceramic insulators display, and the lovely set of historical and iconic post-horns. Among the postal carriages there was an old Italian model from late 1800s that had “Impostazioni” written on the side – in modern Italian, “impostazioni” means “settings”, especially in the IT domain; at that time, it meant “items transmitted per post”. Funny and interesting find!

Outside the museum there are traffic lights, whose poles are completely covered by stickers. A closer look allows to recognise the museum stickers, which work as a ticket, and that one wears during the museum visit. Apparently, visitors who just exited the museum have taken the habit of peeling off the sticker and transferring it to the nearest pole. The whole looks both shabby and artistic:

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That’s a museum I surely will recommend to friends who visit Berlin, and to anyone who hasn’t visited it yet 🙂