Tag Archives: museums

The wanna-be museum of communication


It was a bit of a let down, really. My dad and I agreed that today’s visit to Berlin’s “Museum of Communication” was properly disappointing. Upon entering the rather impressive (can’t think of a more eloquent word to describe architecture) building, we found ourselves surrounded by old telephones and telegraphs – lots of them, too, in roughly chronological order.

In the circular open space in the middle of the impressive building, two robots were bored to death kicking around an orange-colored plastic ball. For no immediately obvious reason, the curators then skipped over the invention of radio and television, guiding us visitors quickly to the 21st century. The new media age was represented by roughly 10 stationary personal computers, which my dad and I used to check our emails real quick.

The special of the day was a temporary exposition entitled “From diaries to blogs” (or something in that direction… I threw away lost the leaflet), which provided a non-exhaustive list of historical and contemporary figures (Goebbels, Anne Frank, and some other non-Nazi related figures as well) who wrote diaries, arriving promptly at the conclusion that both diaries and blogs can be written for all sorts of purposes. Thank you.

Now, let me wrap it up with some balance-striking words. Admittedly, the whole “Museum of Communication” started of as and is still part of a foundation for “Post and Telecommunication”, with a clear emphasis on the former. In fact, if they call the whole thing “Museum of the German Postal Service (and free internet access on the 2nd floor)”, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. Expectation management, hello?!

And on an intellectual note, that was also the only take-home-massage from that museum: Long-distance communication in the form of letters, telegraphs, and later telephone was for a long time considered a responsibility of the German state(s). Hence, it was placed in the hands of a public body run by efficient, mainly Prussian, terribly orderly, German civil servants. No guys in flip-flops from Silicon Valley to provide email services or some foreign invaders buying up German cell phone networks. No, it had to be die Deutsche Bundespost, ja.

In times like these, when we’re about to liberalize and privatize every last bit of telecommunication, this glimpse into the past was rather instructive… Not that instructive though. After all, it was just a bunch of old telephones and telegraphs in roughly chronological order.

Banksy versus Bristol Museum – The Power of a Big Golden Frame

Banksy was here.

Banksy was here.

The first thing to note in Bristol is that it feels a lot like San Francisco. The second thing to note in Bristol is the long queue in front of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Nevermind any further comparison between Bristol and San Francisco. What about the queue? They had all come to see the work of Banksy, Britain’s most (in)famous street artist.

But why? And why would he showcase his stuff in a museum?

For starters, it has to be acknowledged that Banksy’s work is truly amazing. His pieces convey simple, straightforward messages through powerful imagery. If only more artists would possess this skill.

The imagery mainly captures symbolic mismatches, even symbolic collisions. So we find protest police happily dancing through a flower field or riding on a rocking horse. An ancient nude sculpture dressed like a suicide bomber. A grandma fixing an anarchist’s face cover to make sure it looks okay. Most controversially, a Muslim woman wearing an apron that shows a half-naked female body with lingerie (see my pictures here).

Where are they running?

Where are they running?

All of this somehow feels unusual, uncomfortable, or even disturbing. We’ve seen images of protest police and we learned what to associate with them. We’ve seen flower fields and rocking horses and know what they represent. But protest police and flower fields put together? We’re confused.

I am also confused about people’s reaction to this kind of art. When you watch them, you can tell that they don’t know what to do. A lot of them smile or laugh uncomfortably. They appreciate the genius of the artist and the moment they are confronted with something extraordinary, something unusual. And then what?

Found inside a big gold frame

Found inside a big gold frame

Banksy has a political message. Do visitors to his exhibition see it underneath the creativity of his work? Probably. Do they reflect on it to the point that they go out and change something (if only their own life)? I’m not so sure.

Why did Banksy choose to show his street art in a museum? Street art is mainly a form of protest and resistance that is by definition marginal, and therefore not meant for a mainstream museum.

Unless… Unless the entire exhibition is Banksy’s latest work of art. I had the suspicion he was standing in some corner watching all of us smiling away at the protest police dancing through a flower field. Wasn’t he just mocking the world of art? Wasn’t he just making fun of museums as commercial institutions?

A phrase inside a big golden frame read, “Never underestimate the power of a big gold frame.”

The leaflet handed out at the exhibition had a red star in the caption to denote any “Attraction of outstanding merit”. There were no red stars on the museum map.