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Saved by servitude: the display of horses at the Natural History Museum in London
If you have a question about this talk, please contact Salim Al-Gailani.
Displays of the domestic horse bracket the beginning and end of the visitor’s tour of Mammal Hall in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. The exhibits offer to the viewer three distinct modes of looking: first, the specimen’s body is opened for display; second, viewers are encouraged to sleuth the exhibition cases; and third, the exhibits employ repetition and miniaturization as visual guide-posts for the visitor to recognize salient aspects of the specimens, and to interpret them within the curatorial framework that blankets the exhibition as a whole: “What Makes a Mammal?” The contents of these exhibition cases are mediated by the display practices employed, and are intended as educational devices that instruct the viewer about mammals and their extinct fossil relatives. The two displays were part of a larger Museum curatorial and revitalization project that was formalized in 1972, during which the displays of Mammal Hall were reevaluated. Old dioramas were dismantled and transformed into new, instructive exhibits that taught the visitor how to ‘look’ at the animals depicted in the galleries. Historical and contemporary use of the displayed specimens will be considered as well as the importance of the domestic horse within the history of the Museum.
This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.
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