Tin Top Hat, Tin Specs, Tin Bonnet, Tin Candelabra & The Virtue of the Small Museum

While the Tin Candelabra only makes its shadow known in this photograph of Tin [tenth] wedding anniversay amusements this may have appealed to  the witty surrealism of the Victorian smiths who made these momentoes.  This display is in the American Museum of Folk Art , 53rd  Street West, a  smallish museum. A smallish museum is, in my view,  is a virtue in itself. 

The scale of a Museum really is the deciding factor of its relationship with the visitor. Twice I stayed for a week in an apartment block in Rue de Benjamin Franklin in the 16th arrondisement in Paris which housed the George Clemenceau Museum. Though ruefully, it being so close at hand, I never managed to actually visit, I knew it was exactly the same scale as the apartment I stayed in. One can inhabit a museum this size, very quickly you are in loco parentis, assuming the role of caretaker and collector. When the museum expands to a certain point, say that of Museum of Butter in Cork ( which I've written about in Meanjin, Vol 69, Dec 2010) or Lisbon’s wonderful Museo de Musica, one shifts into something a flanûer. You are not sure what direction you should go in but it cannot matter; you will not get lost or bored. At the end of this scale is the Louvre, magnificent but disorientating, even alienating, with its endless kilometres of hallways and levels, some underground like the Tombs of Atuan, some involving Escher like sets of rising stairs, and endless amounts of art which seem to look down on the visitor who is such a philistine as not to give them the proper consideration due to them. It may turn out that all you can recall later is the crowd around the Mona Lisa and the putti on ceilings. You are estranged, lost and must keep referring to floor plans if you are to regain the world outside. To me this is like being lost in the Mirror Maze at Luna Park, everything starts looking the same, only progressively more distorted. There is a puffy anxious feeling on regaining the light of day and a feeling of drained blankness like a portion of your brain has been siphoned off into art storage. Much better, for me, is the feeling of inspiration and empowerment from visiting the smaller scale of a Musuem, such as the Museum of Folk Art or the Museum of Butter, which set me off on an epic poem, lengthy discussions and an essay on Museums in general and Museums of Food in particular.

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