The “Anything Goes” Museum. Exhibition curated by children
28 February – 8 May 2016
The “Anything Goes” Museum is a museological and educational experiment – coined by the Director of the National Museum in Warsaw, Agnieszka Morawińska – in which children are responsible for preparing the main temporary exhibition at the museum’s building in Warsaw.
A group of 69 children aged 6–14 was divided into six curatorial teams. Over six months, the participants got to know the Museum and worked on the exhibition during weekly 4-hour meetings. The teams of junior-curators prepared the scripts and selected almost 300 works to be displayed. They also provided ideas for multimedia presentations and exhibition design, designed educational leaflets, recorded audio guides, prepared captions and selected works that were to be used for promotional purposes.
The exhibition, which is divided into six individual segments, features works from all museum collections: ancient and Oriental artefacts, craft objects, old and contemporary sculptures, photographs, drawings and prints, coins and medals, clothes and paintings created in various periods. Many of these works have never been presented to the public. The children say that they “found and liberated them from the museum’s storeroom”.
The selection of themes and exhibits may be surprising. Juxtaposing works from different eras and cultural circles illustrates the children’s interests and tastes as well as the functions which – in their opinion – should be performed by an ideal museum exhibition. For the public, they have chosen a large number of mysterious objects, with encrypted information and tasks to be undertaken on the journey.
The children want the museum visit to be an enthralling adventure, which requires involvement on the part of the audience. Through the selection of works, manner of their presentation and interactive multimedia elements, they not only want to tell stories, but above all to raise emotions, “inject visitors with their passion” and invite them to a museum game. This game will not let anyone remain passive, involving the mind, the senses, and the joy of new experiences.
At subsequent stages of preparing the exhibition, the young curators got to know the entire museum team. Curators and conservators shared their knowledge about works selected by the children. The Education Department coordinated the weekly meetings and oversaw the schedule, the Communication and Marketing Departments shared their know-how and experience concerning the promotional campaign, press conference and exhibition opening. The Publishing Department supported the junior-curators in the preparation of texts accompanying the exhibition, captions, educational brochures and leaflets. A book, written mainly by children, will also be published to summarize the activities surrounding the exhibition. The Exhibition, IT and Multimedia as well as Administration and Investment Departments assisted in preparing the exhibition design and, most importantly, constructed its layout.
This universal exhibition was created by the children for just about everyone!
This part of the exhibition is devoted to the world of animals. Children tried to answer questions about what we have in common with animals, and what divides us. Domestication, friendship, husbandry, the attribution of divine characteristics… These are just some of the aspects presented in the room. Animal mummies from Egypt, Indian statues of animal-headed deities, sirens and harpies painted by Jacek Malczewski are juxtaposed with china figurines from Meissen and Copenhagen, works by Olga Boznańska and Leon Wyczółkowski as well as examples of 20th century art.
DANCE OF THE MINOTAUR
The design of the exhibition alludes to the labyrinth motif. In order to find the exhibits, we have to move along winding corridors and dead ends. In doing so, we are guided by animals depicted in both ancient and 20th—21st-century objects. The displayed works include the mummy of a ram in a gold-plated case (cartonnage), a relief decoration in the form of a bull’s head (protome) created over three thousand years ago, ceramic plates by Pablo Picasso, sculptures from the Zakopane School or the installation entitled Bomber Woman (a woman with the head of a pig) by Anna Baumgart. The mythological story of King Minos, the Minotaur, Theseus and Ariadne will be told by a film starring the children, set in these parts of the Museum that are unknown to the general public (the attic, basements and technical workshops).
THE GHOST ROOM
The objective of the junior-curators was to scare the visitors. The children selected gloomy and disturbing works by such artists as Jan Matejko, Jacek and Rafał Malczewski, Adam Chmielowski, Bolesław Biegas, Zdzisław Beksiński and Jerzy Duda-Gracz. Visitors are going to see séances, deserted cemeteries, skulls, tombs and mysterious landscapes with ghosts and circling vultures. The main protagonist of this room is a mad collector. The atmosphere of terror will be emphasized by alarming sounds and an interactive screening that will bring some elements of the paintings to life.
PLAYING THE HERO
Who is a hero for children in the 21st century? The exhibi¬tion of the yellow group presents 32 heroes selected from among saints, mythological characters and historical personalities. We will also see everyday heroes, such as firefighters or scouts, and a pair of anti-heroes: Miss Poland who stole her crown and a toreador portrayed by Francisco de Goya. Courage, unusual manner of seeing the world, valour, perseverance and extraordinary achievements were what the children found the most important. Works presented at the exhibition include a Gobelin tapestry depicting Saint Francis, a banner of girl scouts, an embroidered telegram for Józef Piłsudski, paintings by Jan Matejko and Henryk Stażewski as well as ancient sculptures and Panathenaic amphorae.
In the centre of the room, we will find a large multi¬media crossword — when solved, it will reveal the main motto of this part of the exhibition.
The children compared the museum to a treasure trove, and found over 50 unique objects in its storerooms. Access to the treasures is guarded by a lioness and a dragon, and inside we may admire exhibits gleaming with silver, gold and precious stones. They come from various corners of the world: Syria, Egypt, the Far East... The display includes figures of deities associated with wealth and good fortune — there is the mythical goose from Thailand or the Chinese dragon of hidden treasures. We will also have an opportunity to see an Egyptian mummy mask from the Louvre, a rich jewellery collection, as well as a china dolls’ set. The exhibition is complemented by children’s statements on treasures, hiding and looking for them as well as what constitutes a true, priceless treasure in life.
Does fashion entail suffering? What did the clothes of ancient sportsmen look like? Was a sword always used to fight? Who was the Polish Dior? The answers to these questions may be found in works gathered at the exhibition, such as an ancient statue with a characteristic hairstyle, the so-called “wasps’ nest”. There will be no shortage of original dresses, jodhpurs and shirts, and even a collection of footwear: starting from Chinese lotus shoes — testimony to the cruel tradition of foot binding, through 18th and 19th century shoes, to the famous slippers hand-painted by Henryk Stażewski and plastic sandals from the 1980s collection designed by Barbara Hoff. The children invite the audience to travel through time and space, following the changing forms and functions of male and female attire. Visitors are also invited to try on some of the garments. Surely, anyone would look fetching in a green French-style tailcoat embroidered with silk thread!