Narodni's No-No

October 29th, 2019

It's true that part and parcel of the way we travel is a general and vigorous avoidance of the overtly touristic. There's simply not that much that's organized with the purpose of mass entertainment that can actually deliver entertainment to those not fettered to the mass. Besides, wandering around wide-eyed through cookie-cutter "interests" with DSLR-bedecked livestock is how one meets...livestock, not natives. Essentially, there are a lot of stationary cruise ships in this world; all-inclusive, and all roped in to discourage you from wandering away from the group.

As with nearly everything, though, there are exceptions, one of the most prominent of which is probably the occasional trip to a museum. Noble, hallowed halls of my youth, tombs of wonder I'd always thought I'd want to work in, I love a good museum --but travel has taught me that the word itself, and even the auspices and trimmings, are largely a crapshoot. I'm not sure if it's a when, or more of a where, but at any rate the bar to museumhood seems to have lowered to depths rarely plumbed in other categories. To wit, the "Museo del Jamon" in Buenos Aires, if you like, or the utterly decrepit Brukenthal Museum of Sibiu, that bastion of Epson-delivered "masterpieces" and supernumerary ticket-checking interlopers.

Somehow, though, the complete and perfect failure of these museums that shouldn't makes them less offensive than museums that won't. You know, large, storied, monied institutions central to a city, which nevertheless have no real idea of what a museum is or what ought to go in it, or how. Sometimes, it's the shoddiness of the curation --a problem encountered mostly in Latin America, where art and artifacts are ubiquitously discussed in terms of their value to "the common man" rather than their own merits. Other times, it's a problem of policy: insane approaches as to whether or not pieces may be photographed and various other red tape fetishistic behaviors (beloved by the US and those doomed states still chasing the "ideals" of blue jeans and burgers).

Then there's the equally sad and infuriating example of Prague's Narodni Museum. Outside of Istanbul, I know no city more beautiful than Prague, its knack for line and curvature and smoke and sparkle licking every aesthetic joy I know at nearly every turn of the head. The Narodni Museum itself fits perfectly into this landscape, and crowns the very avenue that pumps blood and beauty into the New Town center. Everything is a scroll or an emerald, an epic pastoral stairwell or a waltz or windows and lanterns. I wouldn't even fault the place for having much less in the way of showpieces than structures; amidst empty rooms and corridors there's after all an eighteenth-century whale skeleton, and a very convincing (and comfortable!) yurt. I am satisfied with the thorough splendor of Prague enough to be entirely persuaded of its artistic accomplishments, even if the Narodni were quite literally devoid of any object at all.

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The problem is: they advertised having Tutankhamun's tomb. That'd be fine if they actually had it, but, you see, they...don't. It's not that they have it on rotation like so many museums around the world have had it now and then, and I'm a petty asshole begruding their lack of some eternal claim to it. No, seriously, the thing's not there, at all. It's just advertised. Incidentally, have you noticed that if something is described as being an "x experience", where x is some worthy or potentially interesting thing, which necessarily therefore requires care and thought and money to produce, there's therefore very unlikely to be any x in it? Yes, the Narodni Museum has, specifically, the "Tutankhamun Experience." I suppose I'd been geographically dazzled into a stupor deep enough to overlook that last word.

What this "experience" consists of is a couple dozen fragments of vases, tablets, and the like, several with accounting notes intact, and these are certainly worth seeing, even if they are significantly eclipsed by the collections to be found elsewhere.

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Accessing these fragments is an exercise in frustration, though, as they're peppered throughout a complex of rooms covered in floor-to-ceiling screens (yes, blocking the far more intriguing interiors of the museum) on which is displayed...

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...I don't know, I never watched much television and don't pretend to "learn things" on youtube, but I imagine this is pretty much how it goes, a shit-ton of stock footage with the occasional relevant graphic floating around in the foreground, different bits being mask-highlighted while some derp reads Wikipedia-level pseudotrivia on the audio track. And you...can't leave, see, it's the "experiential" part of the experience, you've got to stay in this room or that for this or that section of holy shit the audacity of the people who came up with this nonsense!

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Museums are places where people pay to see interesting items they otherwise wouldn't, and where people who know about these items take good care of them. A museum is not a cattle-herding set of hallways locking people into watching some graphic design student's sophomore year project. If you're trying to force things into being interesting to the general public by making it "relate to them", or fit into "today's technology" or whatever other bullshit, contentless paradigm, you're not a museum, you're a rube-cube, no better than a three-card-monte setup on collapsing tables. It's quite clear the Narodni bought this "experience" as some sort of license + materials package as opposed to coming up with the sham themselves. Their susceptibility to this in tandem with the manifest outcome of having had much of what would've been present, stolen, makes me rather sad, for the one fault is so deeply shameful, and the other so spotless, I don't want to look at the mottled, blemished outcome.

Prague doesn't need its experiences replaced or capped or capitulated by quotation marks. And I am certain this is true whether one follows the beaten path or not.

One Response to “Narodni's No-No”

  1. "all"-inclusive, at any rate.

    But yes, Americana is a sad shame on human heritage and world cultre the likes of which I know not an equal. The Africans are universally reviled for having produced nothing, which is true ; but they also destroyed nothing. The Americans destroyed everything they touched while producing exactly the same great zero to come out of Africa, which places them at the absolute bottom of the hierarchy, the most contemptible chukas ever to befoul the green portions of the blue marble.

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