A couple years ago, I traveled to Shanghai for the first time on a solo trip. It was awesome! With the World Expo now underway, it seems timely to honor our sister city’s huge “coming out” party with a personal celebration of the unique metropolis.
I’d like to share my pictures from the Shanghai Municipal History Museum. It’s located in Pudong, on the less “interesting” side of the Huangpu River (more developed, boring), in the basement of the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
The museum’s name, though bland, is self-explanatory. I didn’t know what to expect, but it left an indelible impression. I loved it! Some people frown upon dioramas, perhaps because the worst kinds forsake content, quality, and depth for spectacle and cheap thrills, and they tend to be hokey. True in many cases, but not so for this particular museum. I can’t vouch for its scholarship, and maybe I’m just lazy, but I learned a lot about the rich history of Shanghai from the amazing, elaborate, impressive dioramas.
Half the time I wore a huge childlike smile, taken by the clever methods used to tell a grand story. A lot of ground was covered in Shanghai’s tumultuous history, and the many ugly realities weren’t sugarcoated. They used frighteningly realistic figures, miniature cardboard cut-outs of real people, photo backdrops, music and ambient sounds, video installs, etc. Sure, I’ll admit, there was a teeny bit of cheesiness, but in the best way possible. Who doesn’t love a bit of cheese? (and if you want pure chintz, the Shanghai Sex Museum is around the corner from this one).
What do you think? Are dioramas ever okay in museums? Can exhibits be too immersive? What are some fine examples of terrific diorama museums? (I’ll chime in: the War Memorial of Korea has some).
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