London Museums: my Top 5.

I haven’t publish in a while and I apologise. I was moving to another continent for a new adventure. I’ll tell you more about it very soon. But now, let’s have a look back at my two years in London.

I lived in the British capital for two years. During that time, I visited a lot of museums. London is an amazing place to be for museum lovers. First, their number: there are so many of them, from the common touristy to the unexpected creepy. Secondly, permanent exhibitions in national museums are free. You can just go wonder for an hour or even less. You choose, make your own agenda. Finally, London is a place where museums try new things, they are innovative, forward-looking. I have seen successes and failures. It makes it exciting. In two years, I built my opinions and after a while had my favourite places. I am sharing here my top 5. Based on my own experiences and interests, it will give you insight inside – and I hope will make you want to go to – one of the best museum’s scene in the world.

1- The British Museum

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British Museum, Feb 2017. Credit: Maxime Laprade.

This might be my favourite museum! It is a complete marvel. I fell in love with the British museum with the exhibition South Africa: the art of a nation around Christmas last year, which I keep a vivid memory of. Then I started going back to visit the permanent galleries. I think I have not seen everything yet but I like it. I still have things to discover. What I loved the most when I was in London was to go there just for an hour – you get tired of the crowd quickly – looking at one room, maybe two. I kept falling in love with the objects (the collection is amazing). Moreover the central room is incredible: the building’s architecture in itself is a marvel and the space impressive. I could just sit there for a while, feeling the amazing vibes and atmosphere.

2- The Fan Museum

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The Orangery at The Fan Museum. Credit: The Fan Museum.

This small museum, located in the heart of Greenwich in South London, is like a home, but one full of fans. I interned there for six months last years and then continued to volunteer and work with them. It’s a special place. The collection is outstanding and surprising sometimes – who would believe a fan could be covered with diamonds or hide a knife? – I fell in love with the subject-matter, the objects, the place and the staff devoted to make you enjoy your visit. The first time I went, I was seduced in a second. It is the kind of place you don’t want to leave. The Fan Museum makes you understand the importance of small museums – and you will taste the most perfect British afternoon tea in the Orangery.

3- Somerset House

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Big Bang Data, @ Somerset House, London, end of 2015. Credit: Trendstop.

Somerset House is particular. It is not a museum per se. It is a cultural venue which hosts art-related events and exhibitions. I have put it in this list because I have seen some incredible exhibitions there. Big Ban Data in early 2016, Hair which opened at the end of 2016 and the recent Perfume figures among the best exhibitions I have seen in London. The subjects and research are always spotted on and the design of the space is always thought in close relation with it. The practice as a whole is forward looking and innovative, often giving the opportunity for interaction and participation. I used to go there to be inspired, see experiments and get new ideas.

4- The Victoria & Albert Museum

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Victoria and Albert Museum. Credit: myrooms.co.uk

I couldn’t not put it in the list. This museum presents an impressive decorative art collection and to wonder around the rooms is a pleasure. The fashion collection is amazingly rich and the museum has organised some major exhibitions these past years (Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty for instance) which places it at one of the top European fashion museums. I personally loved Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of the English Medieval Embroidery at the end of 2016, which made me fall in love with a subject I knew little about. The V&A has the kind of aura big museums have: after an hour or two, you want to leave but once you do, you want to go back.

5- London Transport Museum

I hesitated before choosing the fifth museum of this list. Some others were coming to me but London Transport Museum had such an impact on my approach to curation that I decided to talk about it. Transport museums in general are quite particular. Transports being such common things in our everyday, the point is to make it however appealing and interesting (the attitude is at the opposite of an art museum which showcases rare objects). This makes them try innovative curatorial practices. In this job, London Transport Museum in Covent Garden succeeds – for instance, digital installations punctuate the exhibitions (see video). In the permanent galleries, there are two journeys possible: one for the adults and one for the kids, each one respecting a particular strategy in terms of interpretation and design (by the way, the wall museum is beautifully designed) and each one being harmoniously with the other. It is a museum made for its visitors. I could feel that what matters was the audience, their visit, the time they spend at the museum, what they could learn, memorise, retain; more than the actual objects. I am not saying that the collection is not taking care of or paid attention to, it is, but the objective is clearly that the visitor learn and enjoy his/her visit first. The exhibition is designed towards the visitor, considered a person with a body and not just a viewer. Visiting the galleries, I understood the power of design combine to curation: it can make wonders. It is a museum made for its public and it was the first time such a thing appeared obvious to me. This can sound surprising but I actually find it very refreshing.

I hope this list will inspire you. My only advice would be to go visit London and spend some time their, it is an incredible city with an incredible museum’ scene.

Maxime

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