Children Curate Innovative New Warsaw Exhibition
The Anything Goes Museum is a museological and educational experiment sure to challenge our pre-conceptions about what museums can do. In an unusual move, it puts children in charge of preparing the main temporary exhibition at the National Museum in Warsaw.
A group of 69 children aged 6 to 14 was divided into six curatorial teams. Over six months, the participants got to know the museum and worked on a new exhibition during weekly 4-hour meetings. Working with the museum’s various departments, the teams of junior-curators prepared the scripts and selected almost 300 works to be displayed. They also provided ideas for multimedia presentations and exhibition design, designed educational leaflets, recorded audio guides, prepared captions and selected works that were to be used for promotional purposes. An accompanying book, written mainly by the children, will also be published to summarise the activities surrounding the exhibition.
The selection of themes and exhibits may be surprising. Juxtaposing works from different eras and cultural circles illustrates the children’s interests and tastes as well as the functions which, in their opinion, should be performed by an ideal exhibition. They have chosen a large number of mysterious objects, with encrypted information and tasks for visitors to tackle. The games ensure nobody remains passive, and that their mind and senses will share in the child-like joy of discovering new experiences.
Initially conceived by the Director of the National Museum in Warsaw, Agnieszka Morawińska, the universal exhibition created by the children seems to cater for just about everyone. Divided into six individual segments, it features works from every type of collection: ancient and Oriental artefacts, craft objects, old and contemporary sculptures, photographs, drawings and prints, coins and medals, clothes and paintings created in various periods. Many have never been presented to the public before.
The exhibition can be viewed from 28th February to 8th May 2016.
More about the exhibition's six sections
This part of the exhibition is devoted to the world of animals. Children from the group tried to answer questions about what we have in common with animals, and what divides us. Domestication, friendship, husbandry, the attribution of divine characteristics… These are just some of the aspects presented in the room. Animal mummies from Egypt, Indian statues of animal-headed deities, sirens and harpies painted by Jacek Malczewski are juxtaposed with china figurines from Meissen and Copenhagen, works by Olga Boznańska and Leon Wyczółkowski as well as examples of 20th-century art, such as Hedgehog by Tadeusz Sieklucki – a sculpture made of cement and nails.
Dance of the Minotaur
The design of the exhibition alludes to a labyrinth. In order to find the exhibits, we have to move along winding corridors and dead-end rooms. In doing so, we are guided by animals depicted in both ancient and 20th-21st-century objects. The displayed works include the mummy of a ram in a gold-plated case (cartonnage), a relief decoration in the form of a bull’s head (protome) created over three thousand years ago, ceramic plates with representations of animals by Pablo Picasso, sculptures of animals from the Zakopane School or the installation entitled Bomber Woman (a woman with the head of a pig) by Anna Baumgart. The mythological story of King Minos, the Minotaur, Theseus and Ariadne will be told by a film set in these parts of the Museum that are unknown to the general public (the attic, basements and technical workshops). The children will play the key protagonists and the ancient choir commenting the story of the monster trapped by King Minos.
The Ghost Room
The objective of the junior-curators who prepared this part of the exhibition was to scare the visitors. The children selected gloomy and disturbing works by such artists as Jan Matejko, Jacek and Rafał Malczewski, Adam Chmielowski, Bolesław Biegas, Zdzisław Beksiński and Jerzy Duda-Gracz. Visitors are going to see séances, deserted cemeteries, skulls, tombs and mysterious landscapes with ghosts and circling vultures. The main protagonist of this room is a mad collector, and the exhibition will feature old furniture suggesting that the museum-goers have found themselves in his cabinet. The atmosphere of terror will be emphasised by alarming sounds and an interactive screening that will bring some elements of the paintings to life.
The children compared the museum to a treasure trove. They found over 50 unique objects in the museum’s storerooms which they decided to show to the public. Access to the treasures is guarded by a lioness and a dragon, and inside we may admire exhibits gleaming with silver, gold and precious stones. They come from various corners of the world: Syria, Egypt, the Far East... The display includes figures of deities associated with wealth and good fortune – there is the mythical goose from Thailand or the Chinese dragon of hidden treasures. We will also have an opportunity to see an Egyptian mummy mask from the Louvre, the rich jewellery collection – including rings and necklaces – brought over a century ago from Egypt by Princess Izabela Czartoryska, née Działyńska, as well as the china dolls’ set and tent-shaped snuffbox belonging to King Augustus III. The exhibition is complemented by children’s statements on treasures, hiding and looking for them as well as what constitutes a true, priceless treasure in life.
Playing the Hero
Who is a hero for children in the 21st century? What features should such persons demonstrate? The exhibition of the yellow group presents 32 heroes selected from among saints, mythological characters and historical personalities. Their extraordinary courage, unusual manner of seeing the world, valour, perseverance and unmatched achievements were what the children found the most important. The selection features both great commanders and everyday heroes, such as firefighters or scouts. The children decided to also include anti-heroes: the Miss Poland who stole her crown and a toreador portrayed by Francisco de Goya. Works presented at the exhibition include a Gobelin tapestry depicting Saint Francis, a banner of girl scouts, a telegram sent to Józef Piłsudski, paintings by Jan Matejko and Henryk Stażewski as well as ancient sculptures and Panathenaic amphorae. In the centre of the room, we will find a large multimedia crossword – when solved, it will reveal the main motto of this part of the exhibition.
Does fashion entail suffering? Did knights like colourful fabrics? What did the clothes of ancient sportsmen look like? Was a sword always used to fight? Who was the Polish Dior? The answers to these questions may be found in works gathered at the exhibition: an ancient statue with a characteristic hairstyle, the so-called “wasps’ nest”, as well as designs, photographs and paintings depicting old clothes. There will be no shortage of original dresses, jodhpurs and shirts, and even a collection of footwear: starting from Chinese lotus shoes – testimony to the cruel tradition of foot binding, through 18th and 19th century shoes, to the famous slippers hand-painted by Henryk Stażewski and plastic sandals from the 1980s collection designed by Barbara Hoff. The children invite the audience to travel through time and space, following the changing forms and functions of male and female attire. Visitors are also invited to try on some of the garments. Surely, anyone would look fetching in a green French-style tailcoat embroidered with silk thread!
Source: press materials, 27 Jan 2016