The article by Tiffany Jenkins (Perspective, 2 August) on the National Museum of Scotland made a welcome change from the uncritical praise usually heaped on this establishment.
The lack of coherence in the displays is echoed by the baffling signage and the absence of any comprehensible routes.
There are certainly some well-produced exhibits but they stand in contrast to the many superficial, uninformative and disconnected items.
The inadequacy of directions in the museum was well illustrated to me during the Science Festival, when my teenaged granddaughter and school-friend went there specifically to see an advertised exhibition. When they were asked later how they had liked it, they said that they had been unable to find it!
The two parts of the building itself reflect many of the recent changes: the magnificent and elegant building of the original museum (designed by an engineer) is joined to the fussy collection of levels and disjointed spaces of the new extension (designed by an architect).
In HER perceptive article on the “dumbed down” character of the refurbished Museum of Scotland, Tiffany Jenkins clearly believes that this particular emperor has no clothes.
Sadly, she has a point. Within the public realm, such cultural institutions used to perform a particular function based on an inherent belief that they were agents of social betterment for all classes.
It was a philosophy championed by individuals who understood the purpose of their mission – directors, patrons and philanthopists of the calibre of Sir Henry Cole, John Ruskin and Prince Albert.
In the post-war era, however, an altogether different ethos has emerged and its driving force is marketing.
The rot set in some time ago – I would suggest it began in Edinburgh when the late Lord Clarke’s Turner masterpiece, Folkestone, was billed as “the most expensive painting in the world”.
The museum business now seems to be regarded as a cross between a theme park and a marketing opportunity and their former role as research institutions and places of learning and enlightenment has become the also-ran in the commodification game, which seems to be concerned with notching up the numbers, rather than the quality of the learning experience.
I am by no means entirely negative about some of the achievements of our museum and galleries.
The current exhibition on Catherine the Great’s Russia is outstanding, the Weston link at The Mound is a well-deserved success, and the exhibition on early Scottish cinema in the National Library of Scotland is an absolute delight.
To call the National Museum of Scotland, which is now an incoherent curatorial mess for the most part, a “world-class museum”, is hardly realistic. I’m afraid I’m one of those who would incline to the view that it’s a world-class embarrassment.
David J Black
St Giles Street
I dreamed a dream the other night. I dreamed I saw last year’s 2.3 million visitors to the National Museum of Scotland all lined up, waiting for their free admission.
But, as in all dreams, there was something that didn’t seem to make any sense. They were each being asked for just 20p before being allowed over the threshold.
The queue stretched along Chambers Street, down George IV Bridge onto the Mound, past the National Gallery (free admission), along Princes Street and eventually onto the M8 I next saw the line in front of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (free admission) in Argyle Street Glasgow, before it finally dwindled out at the Museum of Transport (free admission).
So, 2.3 million x 20p = £460,000.
Scotland’s small, independent museums, particularly those in the more remote rural areas, are suffering badly in the current climate, the high cost of transport fuel and a succession of poor summers.
A share of a modest £460,000 – ah, that’s what dreams are made of.
Hidden Treasures, Museum of Lead Mining,
Wanlockhead, Scotland’s Highest Village
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east