I have a history of being massively disappointed with revisits to museums of my childhood – especially the tarted-up National Maritime Museum, where a century of serious, intelligently curated art was largely replaced by too many toddler-friendly ‘experiences’ (sample exhibition: ‘Pirate Girlz!’). One of the only museums to escape this blight has been the revamped Imperial War Museum.
Now comes news that the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood (prop. the all-consuming V&A) is going to close for two years so that it can become a kind of M&M World for ADD kids. The museum had been going that way for some time, the curators confusing the term ‘childhood’ with the term ‘children’, and the older stranger toys being phased out in favour of crayon corners (or ‘cornerz!’). A close look at a larger version of the above revamp design suggests that it is nothing but a giant playground.
While woke curators cleanse British museums of anything carrying a hint of controversy (and how many historical toys would pass today’s sensitivity tests?) we’re left with candy-coloured play areas and gift shops. I’m betting Struwwelpeter won’t get a look in, or anything that requires setting in historical context.
Meanwhile, author Lissa Evans reminds me of ‘The Annotated Alice’, a superb book which came out decades ago and has been endlessly reprinted. The volume explains who and what the characters represent, and shows a way of setting the nonsense story in its correct social context. Any museum could follow its template – but it would require a bit of work from the visitor. The curators could perhaps stick an ‘interactive’ label on it, though, and put it on a colourful video screen. Because that’s all most London museums are now, bucket list selfie spots, gift shops and eye-waveringly expensive interactive exhibitions. When the esteemed British Library staged an Alice in Wonderland event they opted to use Disney’s characters instead of Tenniel’s. Who wants to see some creepy old characters from a book?