Museums get a bad rap. Designed to document all things terrific and trivial about humankind and the planet we live on, many seem dead set on boring those who enter to tears.
But not these world-class wonders. Prepare to embark on a voyage of discovery with this sneak preview of our expertly curated new book, 50 Museums to Blow your Mind.
Smithsonian Institution – Washington DC, USA
I’ve heard about this place – it’s huge.
Ah ha, in true US style this complex is ginormous; in fact it’s the largest museum complex in the world. Made up of 19 museums and galleries and a National Zoological Park.
It sounds like quite a time commitment...
A visit requires at least three days of your time and some military-grade organisational skills. The information centre can help you plan but it’s generally acknowledged that the museums of Natural History, the American Indian, American History, and Air and Space are not to be missed.
OK, get ready. Here’s what’s hot at the Natural History Museum: the ‘Hope Diamond’, the 8-tonne model of an African elephant, the Neanderthal man reconstructions, the mummies, and the live coral reef. At the American Indian Museum don’t miss the Navajo paintings and the photographs by Leuman M Waugh. Get a taste of American History by seeing Edison’s light bulb, George Washington’s uniform and Dorothy’s red slippers. Finish your whistle-stop tour at the Air and Space museum where you’ll see planes piloted by both the Wright brothers and Amelia Earhart, an Apollo command module, and a model of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise.
Soumaya Museum – Mexico City, Mexico
Is this the silver-plated behemoth built by the Mexican billionaire?
One and the same. The folly of one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim, the Soumaya is named after Carlos’ late wife and has some stand-out exhibits housed in an enormous, hourglass-shaped, shining edifice.
This sounds like it’s one hell of a private collection.
Money might not buy you love but it can buy just about everything else. Slim’s collection numbers close to 70,000 pieces, at an estimated worth of more than US$700 million.
What kind of pieces can we expect to see?
There are works by famous Modernist and Impressionist masters like Picasso, Dalí, Renoir and Monet, as well as the world’s largest assortment of sculptures by Rodin, over 380 pieces in fact.
A slice of Europe in the heart of Mexico.
While works by the European masters garner a great deal of attention, there’s actually a large selection of Mexican artworks – everything from musical instruments, furniture, photography, fashion, and decorative and graphic arts. It’s one of the most eclectic collections that money could buy.
Imperial War Museum – London, UK
It sounds like we might learn something here.
Among all the mind-bogglingly quirky museums in this book we have managed to include a few places that are of genuine historical significance as well as being remarkable and revealing. The Imperial War Museum is such a place.
What’s in store?
The museum has five separate localities all displaying warfare artefacts from British involvement in modern conflict. The main and most impressive location is housed at Lambeth Rd, where the large, central atrium hosts a Supermarine Spitfire suspended from the ceiling, displays of actual V1 and V2 rockets, and a Land Rover that was hit under a rocket attack in Gaza in 2006. Other extraordinary items include an Enigma code machine, the original note conveyed to the front line commander ordering the start of the battle of Ypres, and the bronze eagle from Reich Chancellery in Berlin.
What else is a ‘must see’?
Don’t miss Churchill’s War Rooms, the underground bunker where Churchill and his staff plotted the allied victory in World War II. The map room has remained completely intact and unchanged since the end of the war in 1945.
Avanos Hair Museum – Cappadocia, Turkey
A hair museum?
There’s no denying that a cave in Cappadocia festooned with thousands of samples of women’s hair nests firmly in the camp of quirky when it comes to museums.
‘Quirky’ is the polite way to put it.
Before the potential creepiness of the place gets the better of you, let us tell you the sweet story that goes behind the strange assortment. Word has it that the collection began when the lovelorn potter from the ceramics gallery attached to the museum was forced to bid farewell to a female friend. To remember her by, he asked for a lock of her hair. As a tribute to his heartbreak, female visitors to the pottery also trimmed their locks and added them to his collection. The rest is hirsute history.
Um, ok, still pretty weird.
Yeah, who are we kidding? It’s totally bizarre. You’re welcome to be a part of the weirdness (if you’re a woman, of course) – the museum provides scissors, tape, pen and paper for you to cut your own contribution and attach it to the already super hairy walls of the cave.
Porsche Museum – Stuttgart, Germany
A midlife-crisis museum? Finally!
Yeah, there are jokes to be made, for sure. But if you’ve ever been interested in cars, it’s unlikely that a little Porsche fantasy hasn’t preoccupied your waking dreams. And even if you’re not a car nut, a Porsche is really the archetype for sports car, right?
I’m ready to embrace my inner 13-year- old/47-year-old.
Your mind will be set racing here. There are around 80 vehicles on display representing 100 years of Porsche history: Classic Porsche 356, Le Mans racers, recent models, plus trophies from famous Porsche motor racing victories.
But do I get to drive anything?
If you have the cash you can buy one. But otherwise, no, this is all about admiring and learning. You can even watch mechanics service the display machines in the workshop section of the museum.
What will the children do while I’m preoccupied by all this?
There’s a kids museum rally course to keep them enthused. But seriously, kids will love this place. We always have!