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More on the inadequacies of the National Museum, and its secret language

By johnboy - 11 April 2009 7

The Australian is taking over the coals of what it appears to conclude is the failure of the National Museum.

    He [John Mulvaney] concedes many people like the NMA’s striking exterior. But he claims the building and car park are too small, the foyer and shop too big, and the interior walls aren’t appropriate for the material they’re meant to showcase. “I think it’s a totally inappropriate design,” he says.

There’s also some interesting admissions from the architect about the childish culture wars elements in the design.

What’s Your opinion?


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7 Responses to
More on the inadequacies of the National Museum, and its secret language
I-filed 12:19 pm 12 Apr 09

Indeed. A big “sorry, Katie Bender” from the execrable Kate Carnell should be emblazoned on the building.

I think the building should be bulldozed. Even though it’s too small for the purpose, it’s too large for the site.

The marketing side of the NMA looks suss too – all those “Indigenous” souvenirs, some openly labelled as made in South America on some kind of weaselly “exchange with our brothers” pretence, others, particularly some of the baskets supposedly made in Sydney by Indigenous people, look like Chinese basket techniques. I stand to be corrected on that!

S4anta 9:51 am 12 Apr 09

Hells_Bells74 said :

NickD said :

That said, the NMA’s building is rubbish and a totally impractical design for any museum, and especially a national museum with a massive collection. Knocking it down and starting again wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Think that idea may have Katie B turning in her grave..

Or giving her a headache

Hells_Bells74 6:11 am 12 Apr 09

NickD said :

That said, the NMA’s building is rubbish and a totally impractical design for any museum, and especially a national museum with a massive collection. Knocking it down and starting again wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Think that idea may have Katie B turning in her grave..

The cat did it 12:23 am 12 Apr 09

I wouldn’t trust the Australian’s motives in publishing this article, true though most of it may be. It’s an interesting looking building, sure, but as a museum, it’s a flop. IIRC, Raggatt claims he got the inspiration for the main building from the shape of a plaited loaf!! there’s probably a good explanation of how the plaited loaf is fundamental to the history of Australia, but I’ve yet to hear it. We got the Museum where it is, in the form it is because Howard needed a quick piece of nation-building symbolism to brandish for the 2001 election. The cost of his short-term fix will be paid for years to come (like the decision not to split Telstra, but that’s another story).

The article is also correct in saying that the NMA is way too small; the Yarramundi Reach site would have allowed a much better display of the NMA’s material. Alston probably got the advice on location that his minders asked for- and no-one mentioned the Zoo, which is even more remote, but doesn’t seem to have any problem with lack of visitors. Museum professionals I’ve met are aghast at the paltry display in the NMA itself, compared to the wealth of material in the NMA’s Mitchell warehouses. This limited display area has had the unfortunate side effect of pushing the displays towards an unfortunate post-modern presentation where single items are presented and ‘interpreted’ for the viewing masses (ie you are told how to interpret them). The really great museums of the world present lots of closely related items, so you can observe similarities, variations etc, and make your own interpretation. Another problem was the commissioning of artworks (often making strong political statements) that were scattered among the historical material, so you could scarcely tell which was which.

Some of the exhibits were blatantly misleading, probably due to young, ignorant , but ideologically sound curators. I remember particularly one exhibit of what was supposed to be the interior of a fire-safety dugout from the Victorian Ranges- it was lined with western red cedar boards, like a sauna! As a child, I visited several of the real dug-outs around Powelltown and Healesville, and remember clearly that the walls and roof were made of trimmed logs 400mm or so in diameter, with earth piled over the top. Clueless curators- and museum management.

One more thing- does anyone else remember Craddock Morton at ANU in the 1960s when he was a fire-breathing stirrer and ANU Labor Club heavy? cracks me up very time i see him on tv.

NickD 1:00 pm 11 Apr 09

Yet another attempt by The Australian to re-open the history wars. I doubt that anyone in the real world thinks that the NMA was ever a “byword for controversy” like the article claims. The assertion that the smaller number of visits in 2007-08 than 2001-02 is “a dramatic decline” is ridiculous given that 2001-02 was the year the museum opened – I doubt that the National Portrait Gallery will also ever come close to its opening year crowds.

That said, the NMA’s building is rubbish and a totally impractical design for any museum, and especially a national museum with a massive collection. Knocking it down and starting again wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Pommy bastard 10:08 am 11 Apr 09

I have to say I am a fan of the NMA, it’s one of the highlights of Canberra for all the Pommy and other mates who have visited us here.

The foyer(and shop) may be large, but they are(in my eyes) truly beautiful.

It’s one of the few post-modern buildings I actually admire the design of.

Bam Bam 9:15 am 11 Apr 09

Honestly… can’t everyone get over these apparent deficiencies with the NMA? Just take it for what it is and get on with it. I’m no massive fan… but top whining FFS.

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