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The Underwater Museum

December 29th, 2010 by admin

“What d’you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

A pause. All the money has been spent at the Boxing Day sales. Bilious livers cry out for a little mercy between Christmas and New Year’s. A walk would be Just The Thing, or better yet, a beach excursion. Unfortunately, the weather is bent on discouraging virtuous outdoors exercise.  Finally, someone says,  “We could go to Te Papa…it’s open, and it’s free, and there’s that new exhibit.”

Tourists adore Te Papa, New Zealand’s vast national museum, with the unfocused blanket of affection they drape over their Wellington experience. They leave happily glazed, cameras full of pictures, mispronouncing poanamu and marae.

Locals are more mixed. Ennui sets in after eyeing the cakes in the 4th floor cafe one time too many, hauling the children’s fourth form group through again, or taking yet another round of detail-oriented visitors there. But they always go along, willing to fork out for the special exhibits, appreciating the smooth coat check, the smiling docents, the way the city is framed so beautifully inside the building.

Finally, there are the disgruntled ones, experts and aficionadoes unhappy at Te Papa’s perceived failings. The vast, un-displayed collections are the main one. Would-be employees whine about the impenetrable mysteries of their hiring process. When it was first opened in the 90s, vexed experts eyed the late-postmodern structure and scoffed that it would be “the underwater museum” after the first big earthquake.

This, at least, was easily rebuffed by noting that this beat the alternative for a capital city’s national museum: being at a nuclear ground zero, like all those capital city museums in Russia, the U.S., the U.K., China….

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  • “Would-be employees whine about the impenetrable mysteries of their hiring process.” THAT certainly is true of pretty much every museum I can think of!