The Period Rooms at the Met have always captivated me. The period room genre is essentially that of a full-scale architectural time capsule. But these rooms also trigger a visceral sense that you could just step in and sit down to a soon-to-be-served dinner. I have seen other period rooms in other museums, in other countries even, but the Met’s have always seemed to me so exacting in their detail and theatricality and represent a total commitment to preservation of an interior space. Silently, and almost without text, they tell of another way of life that is forever lost in time. The lighting effects at the windows suggest that this life continues outside and just beyond our grasp.
I was back at the Met recently and discovered that in place of the old labels they have added a layer of interpretive programs on large LCDs mounted to the rail. There is something cynical and perhaps a bit sinister in this. While I do think the media programs executed by Small Design are thoughtfully designed, with smooth interfaces and are incredibly helpful in understanding the contents of the room, I am at the same time stuck by the decision to use this technology in this particular context. If there is any place left in the world that you would expect to escape the glow of the now ubiquitous flatscreen it would be here in the Met’s Period Rooms. The monitor stands in such contrast to the contents of room so perhaps the museum felt that the boundary remains clear. But then again it is the tenuous nature of the old flimsy rail and its archaic labels that makes the boundary so tempting to leap over.