While typically only the best and brightest minds can land a job at the world’s art, history and natural history museums, even brainy boffins can sometimes make rather glaring mistakes, showing there’s hope for us all.
Back in in November 2018, the British Museum launched the small ‘No Man’s Land’ exhibition to highlight “ancient and modern perspectives and attitudes towards the territories, landscapes and man-made borders of the Middle East.”
Three ancient objects are used to recount the tale of the earliest recorded border conflict between two Sumerian city states, Lagash and Umma, around 3,000 BC. These objects are juxtaposed with modern photographs shot recently in southern Iraq.
While a poignant reminder of our shared inability to learn from the mistakes of the past, the curators realized they themselves had made a glaring error: one of the displayed objects, long-assumed to be a vase, was in fact the mace head of King Gishakidu of Umma.
“We realized how daft we’d been,”said Irving Finkel, a co-curator of the show, after comparing the mace head with a similar one kept at Yale University. Not the worst mistake, it no doubt caused a few blushes, but few other museums can point the finger given the glaring gaffes experienced by many in recent years.
Natural History Museum bested by 10-year-old
Natural history buffs can occasionally get it wrong too; take the infamous case of Charlie Edwards, the then-10-year-old boy who pointed out that London’s Natural History Museum had misidentified a dinosaur silhouette on one of its displays.
Museum staff had accidentally used a silhouette of a Protoceratops, a sheep-sized herbivore, instead of the carnivorous Oviraptor. The National History Museum acknowledged its mistake and thanked the amateur paleontologist for his keen eye.
No appreciation for modern art among cleaning staff
Modern art can often leave the public confounded, asking unusual questions of the audience in unlikely ways.
Take the 2015 installation “Where shall we go dancing tonight?” which was comprised of empty champagne bottles and used party poppers. It was created as a tribute to the excesses of the 1980s, from financial speculation and mass media to the rampant party lifestyle that consumed vast swathes of Western society.
Not everyone saw the profundity of the piece, however, as the Museion Bozen-Bolzano’s cleaning staff unceremoniously dumped the whole thing in the trash. Museum staff quickly salvaged the piece from the garbage and painstakingly reconstructed it before any irreparable damage could be done, however.
Fruit imitating art?
Sometimes museum staff and patrons alike can be mercilessly trolled by the public, as was the case with Scots Ruairi Grey and Lloyd Jack, who left a £1 pineapple in the middle of an exhibition at their university as a joke, only to come back four days later and see the fruit in its own display case.
So last week we placed a pineapple next to an art display and come in today and RGU have moved it into a glass display case. Amazing. pic.twitter.com/sMzTUlapDQ
— Lloyd Jack (@LloydJack16) May 1, 2017
“I saw an empty art display stand and decided to see how long it would stay there for or if people would believe it was art,” Gray told the Mail Online.
The stunt echoed the infamous case of the pair of glasses left on the floor at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which temporarily enthralled art aficionados before it was discovered to also be a joke.
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