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Index: Museums & Collections

Henry Wellcome’s memento mori.

Ian Sansom: ‘What is one supposed to make of all this stuff, this embodiment of existence? The usefulness of the Wellcome Collection as science has been in dispute since the Museum was first opened: it has sometimes been dismissed as nothing more than a harmless act of minor pleasure, and sometimes as an act of hideous miscreation, as far from the principles of true scientific method as it is possible for a very rich man to go — Wellcome as a kind of Dr Frankenstein. The collection does certainly speak more of luxury and curiosity than of diligent, careful research, but therein lies its appeal.’

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Box-fresh from Sainsburys.

Ian Sansom: ‘The Sainsbury Centre opened in 1978, with a new wing completed in 1991, but on the day I visited it looked absolutely box-fresh, as though it might have been dropped from heaven – or at least from a very large cargo plane – earlier that morning. This is partly because it sits next to – and is indeed firmly attached to – the now rather drab and depressing Denys Lasdun concrete campus buildings, and partly because it does indeed look like a large fresh box, of the kind that might have fallen of the back of an articulated lorry or been washed off the side of a super-tanker.’

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The National Museum of Scotland: Dolly the sheep in Francis Fowke’s beast.

Ian Sansom: ‘The museum – reopened only in 2011, after an almost £50 million refit and redevelopment – undoubtedly has many such allurements, including Ching Ching the giant panda, and some nice working bits of machinery, but it might most safely stake its claim as being the friendliest museum in Europe.’

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Writers Museum, Dublin: tat and ephemera.

Ian Sansom: ‘A truly great International Writers Museum might contain, say, W.H. Auden’s slippers, Clarice Lispector’s eyebrow pencils, Albert Camus’s goalie gloves, and one of Marianne Moore’s tricorne hats. A Writers Museum of Stylistic Devices would include Pinter’s silences, various Oulipian devices, and a hands-on working exhibit featuring Elmore Leonard’s stripped down dialogue mechanics. And the Writers Natural History Museum – a cross between the Pitt-Rivers, the Wellcome Collection, and a good old-fashioned Kunstkabinett – would feature a vast collection of livers, tear ducts, bile salts, anal cysts, and beards displayed according to weight. In the meantime, the Dublin Writers Museum is probably as good as it gets.’

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