Do museums need objects? Do we have too many objects? How do you contextualize objects? What should we be collecting? or not collecting? These are the kinds of questions that many of us wrestle with on an ongoing basis so it was an unexpected pleasure in April to visit the Museum of Things (Museum der Dinge) in Berlin that is unabashedly about things, in particular, the consumer culture of the 20th and 21st centuries.
My great colleague Katrin Hieke and I experienced some pure delight in exploring objects and puzzling over how the open storage was arranged. Sometimes by decade, sometimes by color, sometimes by origin. The crowded shelves actually encouraged us to look deeper, to dig into cases that attracted us. And as always, with museum visits, what you bring with you matters: Katrin grew up in East Germany (DDR) so her added context about some objects was great--and she appreciated the way objects from both the DDR and West Germany were sometimes displayed together.
One section of the exhibition was about branding, but then there were also those anonymous objects that we think of as no-brands: rubber bands, paper clips and the like, encouraging us to think about why some things need branding and others do not.
The museum had some lovely, simple interactives. First, their calendar of upcoming events was not a display on a screen or a bulletin board, but on these shelves, making the calendar an object in itself. In another location, you could adopt an object and help support its care (you can also do this on the website). The interactives valued pencil and a sense of hand, something too rarely valued in contemporary culture.
But the interactives (and the exhibitions as a whole) didn't shy away from encouraging us to think more deeply about all those things in our lives. "How should we live?" asked a question on a magnet board.
Wouldn't it be great to take an object away with you from a museum? At the Museum of Things, a vending machine outside the door gives you a tiny package with a small object, a bit of verse, and a sweet. What could be better? Even though it's clear that this museum is very carefully curated and designed, as befits a design-oriented museum, it provided a kind of joy for me that's all-too-rare my museum visits these days--the joy of discovery, surprise, and connection.