Mythic Creatures


of an Exhibition

by Paul Orselli

Published on July 08, 2007

  • Description:

    The premise of the exhibition “Mythic Creatures” is excellent, namely, that many myths (giants, mermaids, dragons) have a basis in natural objects or phenomena. Unfortunately the execution of the exhibition does not live up to this premise.

    The exhibition itself is divided into thematic areas based on the classical elements such as “Water”, “Air” and “Fire” with creatures reflective of that particular theme shown.

    There is a bit of the carnival sideshow look to “Mythic Creatures.” Appropriately, a “Feegee Mermaid” (a creepy part fish/ part monkey/part paper-mache bit of taxidermy hokum first employed by P.T. Barnum) is included in the show. And whether intentional or not, many of the large carved figures and wall graphics look a bit disjointed and, well, cheesy, when compared to the actual collection objects (old manuscripts, natural history specimens, and historical artifacts.)

    There were several interactives in the show in addition to the large set pieces and collection cases. Unfortunately, these interactives also fell short of the mark. A video/mechanical interactive with the promising title of “Mythoscope” merely shifted between two video images (manatee and mermaid) when a handle was turned. Considering the finely engineered cabinetry and high-quality video production for this particular component, it’s a shame the actual interaction wasn’t more carefully thought out.

    The other mechanical interactives were also knob-turning, whizzing visions signifying little.

    There are interesting points for the dedicated visitor to glean from this exhibition, but I only wish more time and resources were spent on the real objects and real cultural stories and less on the gaudy carnival trappings. (Dare I surmise that the “marketeers” didn’t think this traveling exhibition would “sell” without such trappings?)

Latest Comments (5)

Here we go again . . .

by Kathleen Mclean - July 12, 2007

Why do museums think they have to be superficial in order to be successful? I agree with you Paul—this is such an excellent theme for an exhibition. Too bad it wasn’t rigorous in its presentation. Even “carnival trappings” can be interesting food for thought, if presented carefully and creatively. Do you have any more images?

Mythical Images

by Paul Orselli - July 12, 2007

Along with many of AMNH’s recent traveling exhibitions they’ve banned cameras inside the exhibit galleries. (Although one visitor was taking lots of shots of the Gigantopithecus model when I was there – after the guard wandered away!)

So I just scavenged images off the Web.

I was curious...

by Jim Spadaccini - July 12, 2007

I decided to look for photos from the exhibit in Flickr. Apparently, as you saw not everyone is following the “no photo” policy. Look at the comment associated with the first link.

One man's unicorn

by Wendy Pollock - July 15, 2007

Edward Rothstein of the New York Times reviewed this exhibition in late May, then in an interesting June 4 article, juxtaposed it with the recently opened Kentucky Creation Museum in an article called “In or Out of Eden, One Man’s Unicorn May Be Another’s Apatosaurus.” (Does anyone know whether AMNH is looking at what visitors are taking away from this?)

Taking photographs of exhibits

by Colin Purrington - July 20, 2007

If you’re in the habit of stealth photography, I highly recommend buying an Olympus E-330. It has an LCD screen that pops out horizontally, so you can wear the camera around your neck while discreetly looking down in the view finder screen. Then I use the wireless remote to actually expose the shot. The shutter is a bit loud, but I just wait until there’s a bit of chatter before hitting the button.

There are also many point-and-shoot pocket cameras out there that have sound-free exposures…plus these days they have really high ISO settings and image stabilization, so you can take shots without flash.

If you want a sample of what I’m able to do with my SLR, here are some photographs of the Darwin Exhibit:

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