Two animated video theaters offered a glimpse into the daily life of Pompeians and what the eruption of Mount Vesuvius may have looked like. The theaterettes offered an informative place to rest and seemed to be popular with kids and families (what kid doesn’t want to witness a whole town get burned and buried by a volcano?!)
The body casts were located in a secluded gallery, appreciable in the round, and complemented by a respectful soundtrack. This presentation fostered reverence in visitors.
I’m mostly critical of the exhibition’s entrance and exit experiences. The serpentine queue line at the front of the gallery held 60-100 people until our entry time. We were held in a rectangular foyer where an introductory video was projected on the narrow-end wall. In this orientation, the video couldn’t be viewed by people in the back of the line and so they chose to entertain themselves through conversation and cellphone use. Perhaps the wider wall would have been a better choice for the video?
I suspect that packaging and promoting this material for science museums has compelled its producers to add scientific content and hands-on elements to the exhibition – at the end. The last gallery takes a look at the Ring of Fire and a history of volcanic eruptions around the globe, a timeline of the excavation of Pompeii, and some “interactive” playthings for busy hands. It really doesn’t fit the character or the mindset of the heart of the exhibition. To me, the conclusion was artificial, it was loud, and it was cheap. The scientific ideas that I was curious about: how the body cavities were found and how the casts were made, how an entire city was discovered and uncovered, and how historians know what they know, were not addressed in any detail.
I really appreciated that the color scheme was unobtrusively dark and that the plinths and pedestals were non-decorative. The warm colors and organic shapes of the objects burst forth. Typographic treatments were equally benign. I was relieved to see no sign of the Herculaneum typeface and no simulated fresco textures. “Classy” I thought. Lighting was both mood-setting and set at the right levels for reading.
I didn’t love that the cast bodies were displayed on beds of lava rock that resembled the chunks I put in the bottom of my Weber grill, but now I’m just getting picky.
If you are able to see this exhibition, it’s an amazing peek beneath the ancient ash. I highly commend it for its authenticity and engaging interpretation.
The exhibit requires an additional fee and a timed entry ticket. It is in Boston through February 12. Just google it to learn more about its touring circuit.