After last week’s class discussion hearing the mixed sentiments about the move toward interactive displays and less objects in the Museum, I remembered my experience of visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown a year and a half ago and my great disappointment in the renovations, “modernization” and restructuring of all their exhibition halls. I first visited the Hall of Fame in high school, about 10 or 11 years ago and remember walking in and feeling like I was in my grandparents’ attic, seeing old relics and photos displayed with pride, but also crowded and cluttered. It felt as if I was discovering something, as you tend to feel when going through old family photo albums or clothes and jewelry boxes of past relatives. Old lockers, some actual and some re-fabricated, were stuffed with the jerseys, gloves, cleats, baseball cards, and correspondence of famous players. The museum really captured the essence of baseball and how it became “America’s Pastime.”
When I went to the Hall of Fame most recently, I was with a friend who had never visited and gushed over how personal and intimate the Hall of Fame was, the warm lighting, the display boxes made to feel like lockers and dug outs really indulged a baseball fan’s nostalgia. Upon entry, everything was re-done, what used to be rows of cluttered lockers were now modern display cases with gallery lighting. Objects, much fewer and isolated, seemed detached and inaccessible behind glass panes framed by dry wall painted in deep solid hues. The warmth, accessibility, and feeling of discovery were gone and I felt that kids passing through the halls were really missing out on a connection that I made when I first had visited.
I’m curious to know why the Hall of Fame made the move from the dusty charm of its old displays to the sterile and impersonal. I was surprised to see that even the Statistics Room, which used to have old score board-style listings of players’ names and stat numbers on removable hand painted wooden planks was replaced with boring white Arial font on a black background.
As I had mentioned in class, I don’t think technology and streamlining the display of objects is necessarily the right move for all Museums. Careful attention needs to be paid to the visitor experience. Some mediums don’t necessarily benefit from a minimalist and/or technological approach.