Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Mr Ashmole had a wooden box
It had a secret draw
In it he found Dr John Dee's true and faithful accounts of encounters with angels

Mr Ashmole made a cabinet of curiosities...
Crammed to the top with precious things.
Then he filled a building.

In it, his portrait faces that of Mr Dee's.

Mr Ashmole's museum
On a day when the sky is opaque with rain and the road lost in spray from lorries..

Down to Oxford we went.

Pro tips:

  • There are lockers on the ground floor by the shop, for just £1 you can leave your coat and bag there.
  • You can borrow folding chairs from the front desk and walk about with them, so you may sit anywhere. You should bring pencils and paper and draw.
  • The hot chocolate, is totally delicious!
  • The shop has lovely things inside, you will want to buy something.
And you know what?
I didn't take a single photograph...
Nor did I draw.

The thing is, I find more about museums to dislike than to to like and this gets in my way. I shouldn't let it, but it always happens. In a museum, objects are dislocated from their original setting, and the meanings are lost in the act of appropriation....

Some objects are incorrectly labelled.
All objects are presented as alien. 

A cabinet of statuettes, each one once representing their owner in constant prayer no longer stand before their god.

A carved ball taken from a long barrow is placed with other objects representing numeracy...of all things!

A host of pale, white Cycladic figurines taken from tombs

Here Agamemnon's golden mask.
There the statues of Ariadne
Next a case containing Minoan drinking cups...
Nothing makes any sense.

Everything dislocated and rendered into less than a jpg taken from the 'Net.
All become display.

A cabinet full of prayer wheels and rupas...
You know what?
Open the case, let me use them.

I'll sit on the floor and chant the invocation prayer, spin the wheel and send clouds of blessings through out the building. 

There are people in the Ashmolean from all around the world, many of them know more about the objects and how they should be used than the typed explanation..

The only thing that works is when the story is about the object directly, such as the doors T E Lawrence acquired and used in his house as the way into his swimming pool.

Or the clothes some British officer wore when he turned native in Turkey.

Other than that..
This conceit of a cabinet of curiosities is insular and somehow demeaning.
Belonging to a time when British people were Christians.
When foreigners and our distant ancestors were heathens.

A museum is no longer a prime source of information.
It is more like a Google image search.
A cloud of images

And I take it personally...

I liked the statue of Min though..
He had lost his head, his flail and his dick

But he still made me smile.