Museums set to 'shuffle' artefacts unseen by the public

Museum curators explain the objects displayed in the First Time Out exhibition

The subjectivity of the stories museums tell about their exhibits is to be the focus of a new joint exhibition by five of the UK's leading cultural and scientific institutions.

Each is putting on display a previously unseen artefact from its archives. Over the next six months the objects will be swapped between the venues and given a new label each time.

The revolving exhibition highlights the different perspectives and expertise that museums bring to the interpretation of their artefacts.

Start Quote

Although there are only five objects it is as though there are twenty five exhibits”

End Quote Ken Arnold Wellcome Collection

The five participating organisations are the Horniman Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Natural History Museum, the Wellcome Collection and the Science Museum.

"Although there are only five objects it is as though there are 25 exhibits that are going to be seen around London in the next six months" said Ken Arnold, the head of public programmes at the Wellcome Collection.

"The point of passing the objects on is that each stays the same but what we understand about them completely changes depending upon what the context is. Different experts looking at these objects tell us different things."

19th century Japanese painted wooden panel This Japanese painted wooden panel is held by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Wellcome Collection has unearthed a Livingstone Medicine Chest - named after the missionary and explorer David Livingstone - from its stores for the exhibition.

Unseen treasures

The show also offers the public a glimpse of a few of the millions of unseen treasures stored by UK museums.

The Natural History Museum has chosen the skull of a now extinct giant lemur. The museum's director of public engagement, Sharon Ament, said: "The museum has 70 million specimens in its collections - many of which are used regularly behind-the-scenes by scientists researching important issues relating to the natural world.

"First Time Out is a great opportunity to show the public this skull for the first time."

The objects on display are:

  • Easter Island (Rapa Nui) Dance Paddle, Early- mid 19th century (Horniman Museum)
  • Cranium and mandible of a giant lemur (Megaladapis edwardsi), southwest Madagascar (Natural History Museum)
  • Japanese xylarium (painted wood panels), 11 Meiji (1878), (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)
  • Selection of toys, 'The world pictures for children' from the collection of psychotherapist Margaret Lowenfeld, 1929-1970s (Science Museum)
  • Livingstone's Medicine Chest 1900-1910, Burroughs Wellcome (Wellcome Collection)

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