20 November 2006

"You Really Should Be High For This Stuff"*

best diorama ever
(bellagooch's photostream.)

First, can I just say I love science? I really do. I spent a few hours on Sunday showing off the Museum of Natural History to a new New Yorker, and aside from the fun of that, and the pleasure of revisiting intense childhood memories (the Pilgrims & Indians in the Roosevelt Hall, as seen above), I was in nerd heaven. Interesting sciencey stuff, and hoards of kids running around thinking science (disguised as dinosaurs, lemurs, or rocks) is just awesome. The museum does a great job, especially in the newer installations, of working on every level, for audiences of the widest range of science smarts. For a layperson, I've got an intense science-dork streak, and I was learning new things in every room. And yet none of the exhibits would be over the head of a four-year-old. They do a great job of hitting all the marks - teaching you something, giving you something to marvel at, and getting you (or, more importantly, the little kids) excited about science. In the best rooms (the dinosaurs, vertebrate evolution) they do it all at once. They've also got some admirably forward-thinking displays. "Birds are modern-day dinosaurs." Rock on.

rawr! erm... tweet!
(woesinger's photostream. and i want a camera for my birthday.)

There are also some incredibly backward rooms in the museum. Some of it's the lovable kind - the Roosevelt room, the wood-paneled hall of New York State's environment, which, forget about updated, has not been dusted since 1958.

in lieu of lame pictures from the NYS hall (which i couldn't find anyway, cause no one takes them), i present this picture of a really cool thing. relative of the armadillo, i believe.
(wingdzell's photostream. i'd take pictures of the NYS hall if i had a camera.)

Then there are the "culture halls." In finding that link just now, I see that the Museum has an anthropology division, which makes it all feel a little less dirty and exotifying, but walking through those halls yesterday, especially the older displays of Plains Indians with their skin-clad mannequins, it felt very wrong. It's the Natural History Museum - so that's rocks, animals, and these people? Knowing what I know now, I'd love a little signage that indicates the existence of an anthropology division - without it it looks like you're saying these cultures are part of "natural" history - more primitive, closer to the earth, etc., etc. Exotifying, and gross.

this isn't awkward at all.
(sevenworlds16's photostream. i really need my own camera.)

Matt floated a theory that they're relics of destroyed civilizations - when aliens come and raze the Earth, we'll be in their museums, too. Fine, sure, but it's still the wrong museum. But then that theory's killed when you get to the Asian wing, cultures that have not been eradicated by us evil whites and our marauding ways. So we've got basically every non-Western/non-white culture in their own little glass case. Give me a display on Medieval Europe and all of these white guilt/Ivy League objections will be thrown out the window. I'm very aware of when I let my college-learned theory and criticism bullshit get the better of common sense, but I don't think I'm over-thinking - the way this stuff is presented is legitimately creepy.

a very large freaking whale.
(shawn morrison's photostream. wish i had a photostream.)

But hey, it's still a great museum. My favorite hall (human evolution) was closed, but there was still much great stuff to see - adorable taxidermies, radioactive crystals, imposing skeletons and their place in evolution. This was my first visit to the newly redone and very lovely Hall of Ocean Life, home to the almost 100-foot model of a blue whale which actually was the reason for the trip, as a few weeks ago Matt was wondering if dinosaurs were bigger than a blue whale. (Answer: no, probably not.) Sadly, since special exhibits cost exorbitant extra money, we didn't get to see Snakes & Lizards: Alive!, which Matt wanted to see, or the Butterfly Conservatory, which I wanted to visit. (And then we left and he played with trucks and dirt, and I had a tea party with my dolls, and we got in a fight because he's so incommunicative and I just wanted to talk about feelings and go shopping.)

*Matt, on the Scales of the Universe. "If the Hayden Sphere is the size of a raindrop, this softball-sized model is the size of a red blood cell. If the Hayden Sphere is the size of a red blood cell, this lemon-sized model is the relative size of a rhinovirus. If the Hayden Sphere is the size of a rhinovirus, this model is the size of a hydrogen atom. If the Hayden Sphere is the size of a hydrogen atom, this miniscule dot is the size of a proton..." Or, earlier in the walk, my favorite: "If the Hayden Sphere is Central Park (or something), then this cantaloupe-sized model is the relative size of the Hayden Sphere. If the Hayden Sphere is the Hayden Sphere, then this model is the actual size of a human brain."


feather said...

This post makes me regret enormously that I've only ever been to art museums on my stays in NYC.

One more reason to go there for grad school! I want to see that whale.

a reader said...

Great post. My favorite section of said museum is "North American Mammals," with those incredible background paintings in the dioramas.

Also, the spiders freak me out in the Hall of Biodiversity.