The ideas and messages that are shaping the content of the galleries have been informed and developed using a number of processes. Two key activities that were established in the early days of the project are ‘Brainstorm Meetings’ and ‘Pin-Ups’.
Europe Brainstorm Team
The Europe Brainstorm Team is an expert group of twenty-five curatorial and interpretation staff recruited from the different collections throughout the Museum. Together the Brainstorm Team bring a wider range of knowledge and skills to the project. These include:
- detailed knowledge of the range of objects held within their departments (e.g. Metalwork, Furniture, Ceramics).
- academic expertise in specific time-periods, materials, production methods and styles etc.
- practical experience garnered from previous gallery projects (e.g. organisation of programme, methods of display).
Regular ‘Brainstorm Meetings’ allowed this group to discuss and debate key elements of the project, such as:
- the overarching themes of the galleries
- the development of the subjects of individual displays
- consideration of the role of objects proposed by different collections as ‘absolute musts’ for inclusion in the galleries
- the discovery of connections between objects from different collections (e.g. Metalwork and Textiles) that could together be used to reveal previously ‘hidden’ stories
Whilst much of our work and research is electronically recorded and managed, the production of hard-copy presentations of the objects proposed for each display proved extremely helpful. These allowed us to see all of the objects that might be grouped together in a specific display side-by-side – something that is difficult to achieve on a computer screen.
At regular intervals we produced pin-ups of certain displays or galleries, literally pinning up print-outs of proposed content onto display boards in one of our meeting rooms and the adjacent corridor. These pin-ups helped to provide a clearer idea of how well different objects might work together and if there were gaps or issues that needed addressing.
Key considerations when looking at the pin-ups included:
- Do the objects create a coherent message? – or do they appear more like the contents of an amazingly luxurious jumble sale?
- Do all the objects reflect the proposed theme of the display? – would you be able to guess the theme if the title was hidden?
- Do any aspects of the display need further development or representation? – is there enough ‘Louis’ in the display focused on Louis XIV?
- Do the objects work together in a visually appealing way? – would they encourage visitors to look more closely?
- Do the objects compliment or detract from each other? – for example, does the shiny surface of one object make the matt finish of another look deceptively dour?
- Do the contents of displays collectively convey the over-arching themes we’re aiming to convey across the suite of galleries?
- Is the display repetitive? – is it possible to have too many decorative scrolls in Rococo?!
And when appropriate:
- Does the group contain a suitable range of materials?
- Is ‘Wider Europe’ and the wider world evident in some way?
At key stages in the project, we even pinned-up presentations of all of the displays in each of the galleries – this required a lot of space! We then invited our colleagues from throughout the Museum to view, consider and discuss our ideas for displays. This proved a particularly useful process for everyone, as curatorial colleagues were able to offer us further information, suggestions and advice on the objects and subjects, and colleagues whose special subject is not Europe 1600-1800, were able to comment on whether what we were putting together would be comprehensible to, and engage the interest of, visitors.