…but they aren’t from India?

In Museums on May 19, 2011 at 12:48 am

As promised, the second trip of the fateful day of two cultural excursions – the National Museum of the American Indian.

I’m not going to beat around the bush; this was the worst experience of my DC museum odyssey so far. I was looking forward to it, because I’m admittedly not very well educated when it comes to Native American history, and the building is SO full of promise in a city of never-ending neoclassical facades. I mean, look at it! But take a look at the inside…

The atrium is just a wasted opportunity for something spectacular, and that picture just doesn’t do it justice. Not only am I a dreadful photographer, but I couldn’t even be bothered to try for most part. Anyhoo – at this point, I hadn’t quite given up all hope. I’m a big fan of tours, and as it happened I mozied on in about ten minutes before a “highlights” tour. Well, you know what, I’m going to name no names, but it was the worst tour I have ever been on. It was rehearsed, uninspiring and flatly delivered, which was especially disappointing as our “Native Cultural Interpreter” was Navajo herself and had lived in a Navajo community for most of her life. The tour started out with 40 people on it, and by the time we finished (I stuck it out for you guys, by the way. You’re welcome.) we had dwindled to five. As always, a lot depends on your tour guide…

This is one of the “window walls” – no labels, just a touch screen in front, and you can learn about the items as much or as little as you want. I like the idea, but it seemed a bit try-hard. This is like the Vogue of Museums – you can tell there are museum-fashionista types who lap this place up because it’s cutting edge. It takes a “Cultural Approach” rather than an academic or educational one, apparently, so you can just absorb the information rather than read labels. Very now. At one with the Zeitgeist.

The whole thing was over-produced in the extreme, and the tour made it painful. It felt like a curator had given an elaborate powerpoint about how this space could be used to reach out and tell people about a forgotten race of many communities, and change the world in its own little way, and our guide believed it. Like a sucker at a timeshare conference, she bought it, and was regurgitating the corporate message to everyone else so they didn’t miss out on the bargain.

The National Museum of the American Indian is perhaps the most patronising museum I have ever experienced.  It spoke to the none-native American audience like it was a 5-year-old simpleton, emphasising that “Not all indians are the same”, and that most of them don’t even wear feather headdresses or carry tomahawks any more. Injuns in blue jeans?! Well darn it, if you’d told me that at the door, I wouldn’t have bothered coming in! It tries so unbelievably hard to show how different it is to other museums, because it’s new, it looks at things in a new way, it has new objects, it has a new building, it’s just so NEW! You have never seen anything like this before!

Except you have. You have seen stuff like this at every out-dated, staid, stuffy glass encased-museum that ever existed. This one just cost a lot more.

  1. […] docent. The fact that the house is small dictates an intimate experience, rather than the horrific wholesale nightmare of bigger establishments (NMAM, I’m talking to YOU). It’s also pretty far from the […]

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