Day off (or not!)

Today was the postgraduate programme workshop day.  I attended two workshops on a similar theme – objects in museum education – but the two sessions were so different from each other.  The first, led by Dr Jessica Mack-Andrick, Deputy Head of Learning at the Germanishes National Museum was a useful overview of museum learning and theory, visitor studies, open-ended visual literacy, and the approaches used by the museum were demonstrated in really practical tasks and activities around ‘seeing is thinking’ ideas.  Some of these were very similar to work taking place in many art museums in the UK – for example using objects to make links with collections, doing detective work around stories and narratives in paintings, looking at the moods in portraits and pairing them with objects/other portraits in a very imaginative way, and finally a discursive ‘memory’ activity where after 5 minutes of gazing at a painting, hot-spots could be identified as to which areas both you/your partner could recall and why they stood out.  I really enjoyed working with a diverse range of people – many of whom had worked in museum education but others who had not, and sharing this really open-ended way of working with art historians for whom this is probably something ver far removed from formal qualities and historical context of works.  The initial activity, looking and deciphering the large entrance hall work: Rheinsberg’s Hauptstadt – found signs from when East German Berlin street signs were replaced to match the West – or unified ones – was a really interesting exercise too.  What did it mean?  What could we learn or find out?

The second workshop was at the contemporary art Neues Museum and led by freelance artist educator Jan Burmester.  The group was somewhat complex in that a couple of other workshops had amalgamated into one due to staff illness, and this was a bit unfortunate as people’s expectations were too diverse and unmanageable in a two hour slot (some wanted purely art historical tours of the current exhibition).  Nevertheless, it was fascinating to contrast the education programmes at this contemporary white cube space, with those in the traditional space of the morning.  And actually the programme came across as much more ‘traditional’ in the new space.  Perhaps still in its infancy (after 12 years), but there was a sense that the style may be somewhat didactic (despite the very best open-ended and discursive intentions of the educator) – workshop activities sounded like fun ways to explore artists’ processes (e.g. paper collage a la Bridget Riley, and photo-based cartoon portrait a la Julian Opie), but as yet there is no sign of learning staff ever working together with curators to instigate exhibitions, or develop interpretation (there is hardly any), and certainly audience involvement in curating is a distant dream of the freelance team.  It seems a shame that in the most modern architectural gem, there is still such a hierarchy of ways of working.  Family activities are just for the children on a Sunday, while their parents disappear.  A place full of politics.  I really enjoyed chatting to Jan though – and wish him all the very best in what must be a tricky environment to work in.

And because today was our ‘day off’, I of course crammed as many other visits in as I could.  So lunchtime included a visit to the Toy Museum – full of wonderful Noah’s Arks just like Mary Greg’s, also dolls, teddies, toys, railways, meccano and games.  The things that struck me the most were the games from the 1940s – in a section called ‘Out of the Rubble’ – all relating to the context, ‘make do and mend’, and reflecting the reality (such as a rubble shovelling lorry).  And of course some of the toys I remember, such as little Peekachoo monkeys from the early 80s (called something else here).  Lunch on the run (more pretzel) – and then after the second workshop, I had a cup of tea and piece of apple cake (although it seemed to also come with another cake as well which I think was free as part of a Kaffe und Kuchen deal with the tea?) – so I was rather piggy but had a nice sit down.  Then headed up to the Kaiserberg – amazing castle with lots of different parts to it, stunning views over the city and beautiful gardens.  Very brief pop into the museum there too (lots of arms and armour), then I headed to the Durer House Museum which was fantastic.  A stunning house, but also not only a wonderful exhibition of Durer’s studio and artistic techniques, paint pigments, printing press and so on, but also, I was so pleased to see the most wonderful exhibition of work by children mainly from Charkiw in the Ukraine (I think twinned with Nuremberg maybe?), based on Durer’s paintings and prints.  I hope those children were able to see their works hung in pride of place in the home of Durer himself.  What an honour.  Delighted to see that it had been extended since April too.  Dinner  – salad and lots of it – in nice little place by the Museum Bridge and then hotel bound.


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