Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Ashmolean Museum

19 November 2009

It’s been a week for first visits: on Friday I made my first trip to Britain’s oldest museum, the Ashmolean in Oxford which has just reopened after a massive refurbishment. It’s a fascinating building, with the modern extension seamlessly integrated into the classical original. I loved the apparent randomness of the layout: you wander from small, low-ceilinged galleries into vast, cavernous rooms and you can see through glass panels from one gallery to the next, enticing you onwards. Just walking around the building creates a sense of exploration. The thematic grouping of displays – rather than a traditional chronological approach – adds to the feeling of eclectic channel-hopping. I worried a little that I was drawn more to the text and graphics than to the actual objects on display. It was particularly interesting to finish the day by looking at the displays on Ancient Egypt which are the one part of the museum yet to be refurbished and now appear extremely old-fashioned: the display cases are crammed with huge numbers of objects and cards containing masses of very small text and the galleries feel quite cramped and claustrophobic compared to the airy modernity of the rest of the museum. You can easily spend a whole day in the Ashmolean (and entry is free). And if the queues in the basement café are long I can recommend popping across the road to the café in the foyer of the Playhouse Theatre.

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