Behind the scenes at the Museum: The Crime Museum Uncovered exhibition

By spetty on 1 Mar 2016

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by Jackie Keily, co-curator, The Crime Museum Uncovered

There are many processes to putting on a major exhibition that if you don’t work in a museum you may not be aware of. One of these is how we decide on the design and layout of the showcases. I hope this blog will give you an insight into how we put together some of the display for The Crime Museum Uncovered exhibition.

At the Museum of London we use external designers to design our exhibitions and once they have been appointed they work out how the exhibition will look and feel. This is done in close consultation with the project team at the Museum (those members of staff who are working on the exhibition) and in particular with the curators and the conservation team. As part of this process the designers will produce drawings of all the cases in the exhibition, having been supplied with dimensions, descriptions and images of all the objects.

Usually with an exhibition the items being displayed come largely from our own collections and so doing case lay-outs is a fairly straight-forward part of this process. For the case layouts we get all the objects that will be in an individual display case and lay them out in one of our stores, using the designers plan to make sure that everything will fit in and that the design will work. For the Crime Museum Uncovered, however, all of the objects, except for one, were coming from the Crime Museum at New Scotland Yard. The objects were transported to the Museum of London in August, so it was only then that we could finally see what the case layouts would look like.

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The case layout sessions are attended by the conservators, curator, the museum technicians and the project manager. The designers will also attend if they are available. At the Museum of London all of the mounts for the objects on display are made in-house by our wonderful team of technicians. Therefore it is really important that the technicians attend the layouts as they will be able to say whether or not something the designer may have suggested can actually happen! For example, can an object be mounted in a certain way? These discussions are very important and our conservators will also advise on the suitability, or not of the mounting and design, thinking about it from the safety and security of the object.

Below are a couple of examples of the case layouts that we did.

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The images above show the layouts for the Great Train Robbery case. Our conservator, Jon Readman, and our Chief Technician, Cliff Thomas, have laid out some of the real objects that will be going into that case. However, some of the original objects, for example the paper items, such as photographs and posters have not been used for the layout. Instead we have used paper templates of the same size that we can easily tape to the wall and move around as required. The strips of tape on the wall indicate the size of the display case, so that we know how much space we have to utilise for displaying the objects. The board along the base at the front represents the caption rail, which will be a part of the final, finished case and which, again, we need to allow space for in this temporary layout.

Sometimes the layouts are exactly as they will look in the final exhibition display case. The pictures below show the layout for the execution box, which is on loan to the Crime Museum from Wandsworth Prison Museum, and then the final display of it in the exhibition.

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However, sometimes objects will get moved when it comes to the final installation. The pictures below show an example of this. This display was changed because the objects in it were going to be visible from both sides of the case, as can be seen in the finished display in the exhibition.

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The Crime Museum Uncovered closes on 10 April 2016. Visit our website to see the extended opening hours and book your ticket.

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