Friday, 4 December 2009

Wonderland - the 'Magic of the Rose' at Auckland Museum

Wonderland - The Magic of the Rose
The second part of the Wonderland exhibition - The Magic of the Rose - opened at Auckland Museum last night. It share billing with the last of the 2009 LATE series, the Museum's hugely successful 2009 inaugural set of 10 panel discussions, with live music after. Last night, however, in yet another mixing of the recipe the live bands were replaced with a cabaret hosted by actor, broadcaster and all round Renaissance man, Oliver Driver.

'New Zealand is above the water line against its will'
I didn't stay for the cabaret - but had a very enjoyable time listening to Finlay Macdonald talk with scientists Hamish Campbell and George Gibbs about the remote history of New Zealand and the emergence of Gondwanaland: which, by the by,  produced my all time quote of the year, 'New Zealand is above the water line against its will'

Rose: Art /Nature
Notwithstanding all this competition- the stand out success of the evening for me was and remains  Wonderland - Magic of the Rose.

The exhibition is in two parts - The Rose as Art , and the Rose as Nature. In the one  you walk round a series of exhibits exploring the cultural and artistic history of the rose - its place in the various cultures of its origins, including a lovely set of features showing how the European rose tradition took much of its inspiration from other parts of the word. There are some beautiful craft pieces from the collection in this part. 

In the other half - The Rose as Nature -  we are offered a great set of pieces exploring the genus rosa - the history -  pollination - hybrids et al. And here, its great to see some lovely open texts from the library, one of the Museums best kept secrets. 

Local collections - local connections 
As I noted above, this exhibition is itself one of two under the banner  Wonderland - the first The Mystery of the Orchid ran from the 3rd July to the 8th November, with the web site archive still on view, here.

The Mystery of the Orchid drew record numbers, and was seen at the time as a real success.  And so, comparing the two - the Mystery of the Orchid, now - the Magic of the Rose - isn't really necessary. They both work as stand alone exhibitions,  as well as serving as yet more evidence of the success of Auckland Museums new team based exhibition strategy.

They are also a complete validation of Auckland Museum Director Dr Vanda Vitali's determination  to  give Auckland access to first class exhibitions showcasing their own collections,  courtesy of the Museums enhanced in house creative and exhibition design capacity.

More confident
That said, compared with the earlier Mystery of the Orchid, in this second round, The Magic of the Rose, I felt there was a better balance - as well as more depth - between the pieces from the collection - the interactive  and video installations - and the text and imagery  exploring the rich story of the rose both  as Art, and as Nature.

I also felt a greater confidence in the juxtaposition of the scholarship with the visual theater, as if the exhibition team had decided the visitor, this time round, could  take a bit more of the hard stuff - aka scholarship, with this quote illustrating the overall voice:
'People have been besotted with roses for thousands of years. They flowered in ancient Chinese gardens, bloomed by the river Nile in Cleopatra’s Egypt and scented the bowers of Persian princes.

'But the rose originated long before civilisation. It evolved 40 million years ago in central Asia, before diversifying into around 150 species scattered across the temperate and subtropical zones of the northern hemisphere.

The roses most beloved by people were those whose bloom was brightest, fragrance the sweetest, or whose properties were believed to be medicinal or purifying. Nearly all modern hybrids can trace their ancestry to a handful of rose species with such qualities.'
The Magic of the Rose web site
As in the Mystery of the Orchid, there is a neat micro site on the Auckland web site, here. It mirrors the Art and Nature tracks, but also offers contextual resources for education use, shopping, et al. As well as video features, there is also some excellent audio embedded into the pages, including poetry readings, as well as some lovely pieces from the curators whose work behind the scenes all too often goes unheard.
By the by [and those with no interest in web tools might want to ignore the next two paragraphs] I especially like the way they only use Abobe/Flash interactive as small measured instances that pop up when required and then retire to let the web pages just sit and do their job. The result is a much better user experience.

This is in welcome contrast to some other Museum micro/exhibition sites where the navigation, the content, and everything else is wrapped inside a closed and totally uniform visitor as opposed to user  experience. For the Auckland micro site, go here to have a look for yourself.

Finally I need to record my congratulations to Mika, actor, broadcaster, cabaret star and all round legend. He is present in a number of the video works in the exhibition. Here is a sample. Like everything else in this production - it is a total class act.


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