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Thailand’s dusty treasures

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I like going to museums. But Thailand’s National Museum in Bangkok is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s like one of those fairy tale places that have fallen under a spell and are asleep for a hundred years.

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The museum is housed in a number of former palace building, but also comprises a Buddhist pagoda and some “newer” buildings from the 1960’s.

The strange thing is that hardly anyone in Bangkok seems to be aware of the National Museum. My taxi driver didn’t even know where it was and had to ask for directions on the way.

The museum is a very quiet place. Fallen out of time. There were hardly any other visitors at the museum the Sunday I was there. Almost the only life you saw were middle-aged Thai ladies placed in every exhibition room as museum guards – more softly snoozing than supervising the visitors.

The museum’s collection is eclectic. Everything from golden Buddhas to royal porcelain and a shell collection. From doll houses to the royal funeral chariots and a collection of shadow puppets.

All exhibits all seem a little dusty, like someone put the together fifty years ago and then forgot about them. But all in all very charming and just the place to go if you’re looking for a little quiet time in Bangkok.

Written by Thorsten

December 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Posted in asia, this and that, travel

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Welcome to the world

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The Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628

The Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628

At Stockholm’s Vasamuseet, you can see a Swedish battleship that sank in 1628 and that was raised from the seabed in the 1960’s.

But you can also see evidence of the end of the cold war and globalisation at this museum.

Throughout the museum, you’ll find multilingual explanations and descriptions of the exhibits. The information is given in Swedish, English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Finnish. When the museum opened in 1990, these were the main languages that the visitors to the museum spoke.

Since then, however, the world has changed. Tourists from other parts of the world have entered the stage, and so the Vasa Museum has added two more languages: Chinese and Russian. You can see that they were attached to the information boards later because there is a little gap where the new texts were screwed on to the original information boards.

When I was at the Vasamuseet this past weekend, I thought it was great how these little add-ons show that the Russians and Chinese now have more freedom to travel than twenty years ago.

Now they, too, can finally say “Hello, world.”

Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Cologne’s KOLUMBA

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My cultural highlight this week was a visit to Kolumba in Cologne. This museum has been around for almost a year now, but you know how it is: when you’re not a tourist, when you live in a city, you never really get around to seeing the sights…

A couple of friends had already been to Kolumba’s new building, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. They’d all raved about the architecture and the exhibits.

But the fact that Kolumba is the art museum of the archbishopric of Cologne somehow didn’t help to get me excited about it.

Was I ever in for a surprise

Kolumba is very different from your average museum. One of the unusual ideas here is that the exhibits aren’t organized in a time line. You don’t walk through the ages and see how ideas and styles evolve over time.

Instead, pieces of art are juxtaposed: a medieval statue next to an Andy Warhol. A gilded baroque angel next to an abstract yellow painting. An elaborate silver reliquary from the 13th century next to a small meditative painting by Alexej Jawlensky from 1937 that’s almost completely black.

Architecture and art

It’s not just the juxtaposition that brings these works of art to life. It’s also the space that they’re given in this amazing architecture. The building is minimalist, yet spectacular. The architecture doesn’t take center stage, but works extremely well with the artworks.

Hardly any rooms in the museum are square – instead, Zumthor surprises you with new room shapes and heights at every turn you make.

A courtyard for contemplation

One of the most magical spots of the museum is a little courtyard, which used to be the graveyard of Kolumba church. Today, it’s a place for contemplation – fine white pebbles, some trees and some chairs.

When you sit down here and look around yourself, you see the ruins of the gothic Kolumba church that used to stand here until it was destroyed in World War II.

Behind these walls is a site that shows the excavated ruins of the medieval church, but also of the Roman houses that were there even before the church was built. Then you have some 1950’s architecture by Gottfried Böhm, who rebuilt parts of Kolumby church after the War. And finally, above all and holding it all together, is Zumthor’s 21st century architecture.

Giving art the space it needs

Another thing that adds to the Kolumba museum’s effect is that the rooms are not stuffed with all the artworks that the church surely owns – the curators limited themselves to a few exciting pieces. Some of them aren’t even by well-known artists, but seen in this context, they suddenly gain new impact.

You really start thinking about the art in a different way when you see it presented in this museum. It’s awe-inspiring, sublime, stunning.

I came out of that museum feeling inspired. Small. Grateful.

And I almost feel ashamed for having entered this shrine wearing camouflage shorts and flip flops.

More pictures here.

Written by Thorsten

July 10, 2008 at 1:02 pm

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