Atlantic Worlds

National Maritime Museum

Since I STILL can’t upload any pics (apologies to everyone who’s sent me some absolutely amazing ones) and, given the, ahem, changeable, weather just now I thought I’d take a peek at an indoor thing to do this weekend.

Atlantic Worlds was, I am sure, advertised when it opened last year, but not round here. I eventually saw a poster at Bank tube station, and it’s been a sort of periphery in my mind as a vague something to check out but the Maritime Museum often forget in their flurry to get tourists that some of them will come from locally. I see precious little advertising aimed at us.

Which is why it’s taken me about 6 months to get round to checking it out. It is, in case you haven’t really heard of it either, a major new gallery at the museum which, as the name suggests, deals with the Atlantic Ocean and Man’s involvement with it. It’s at the back of the museum on the first floor and it has two entrances. I’d recommend the left one as you come in – I’m a chronological kinda Phantom – get your ticket then take the left-hand fork, make your way past the rubbish water tank with floating things in it on your left and the gilded barge on your right (which, I noticed yesterday, no one’s allowed to photograph) and go up the back stairs in front of you.

What I like most about this exhibit is that it’s not interactive. There is nothing to press, no annoying flaps to lift, no obvious questions aimed at schoolchildren (or if there are, they’re well-disguised.) This is a grown up gallery for grown up people, rather than always aiming at the lowest common denominator. It’s sophisticated in its design and lighting, and follows a narrative, and though I could have taken a few more exhibits from out of their gigantic stores – space is all very well and good, but I’ve always felt that the Maritime Museum has a bit too much of it – it’s a story generally well-told.

It starts out with the exploration and colonisation by Europeans of Africa and the New World – the first thing you see is a fab map of North America, a good half of which consists of unknown territory and California is depicted as an island. It follows into the trade that was brought between the various continents and the exploitation of the ocean itself (including one solitary case dealing with our fishing heritage – a woeful gap in the museum’s collection – whaling gets more attention) and a slightly unnecessary large glass case with examples of the most common goods traded.

The major part of the exhibition deals with slavery (presumably something to do with the anniversary of the abolition last year) and the campaign against it. It’s nicely done, only a tiny bit sensationalist – presumably the guillotine is to entertain the schoolchildren who have nothing to press – and not quite as worthy as it might have been.

The final part (or first, if you choose to be perverse and start at the other end…) is to do with the various wars and conflicts surrounding the Atlantic – cue General Wolfe & Co.

Actually, I’ve just read the leaflet, and apparently there are interactive installations – at either end of the gallery.I am happy to say I missed them.

This is a classy exhibit. It looks great, and there are some fascinating items. Ultimately there isn’t really enough stuff there for my liking, but I’m an old-fashioned Phantom who loves clutter – point me at The Petrie Museum or Sir John Soane’s house and I’m a happy spectre – and as galleries go this is 21st Century Adult.


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