Museum of Anthropology, UBC

23 December 2009. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

"I come to give you something, and the gift
Is my own beaten self; no feast for the eyes;
Yet in me is a more lasting grace than beauty"

~Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus

Arriving in Vancouver on the 21st of December, my fiancee and I dropped by the Museum of Anthropology after hearing complements about its architecture. Unfortunately, it was a monday and the museum was closed for maintenance.

[front entrance of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, tucked quietly into a seaward corner of the beautiful campus]

We returned on Wednesday to browse the relatively small exhibit of Native American objects inside a cavernous modern structure, its concrete and glass components giving a serene but cold vibe amidst the foggy shores of the peninsula.

[one of the totem poles outside the museum building]

Most of the large objects displayed in the museum are totems and ceremonial utensils and containers; the textual descriptions about them are somewhat vague, leaving one to guess about the exact origin and purpose of each object if the entire essay that accompanies each object is not read in whole.

[a modern rendition of a traditional Native craft]

Adjacent to the main exhibit hall is a exhibit akin to the "Visible Vault" idea that our own LACM anthropology displays are organized by: a large number of specimens are displayed in cases and drawers as if one was examining a collection area behind the scenes. Unfortunately, the UBC exhibit was either still under construction (parts of the area was indeed closed), or the research specimens were displayed simply without adequate description. It was nice for visitors to walk through and be impressed with the sheer number of objects, but difficult to learn anything from the exhibit unless one was accompanied by a specialist/docent of that particular topic.

[an object clearly linking human beings with the rest of nature; its exact meaning is unknown to the visitor]

The remaining exhibit area displayed pre-18th century dinnerware from Europe; while serving as an excellent example of historical culture, many of the objects would not be considered spectacular by the common eye. Maybe beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.

[a collection of European household dinnerware and furniture...]

In all, the highlight of the Museum of Anthropology was its very modern architecture. The outdoor area also seemed to have some sort of reconstructed Native buildings and ceremonial grounds in progress; perhaps a second visit is warranted?

[the exterior of the UBC Museum of Anthropology; the entire institution felt more like an art museum]

By the way, I got the quotation at the beginning of this entry from a free book on "classical Greece and the origins of social theory" the UBC Sociology department was giving away... maybe I learned something after all!


1 comment:

Spencer said...

Reminds me of a certain "museum" actually down closer to home (you might know the one). Hardly anything at all to see, and outrageously expensive. However, worth it if you absolutely have to see a traveling exhibit that they happen to have at the time (I did this twice).