“Museum After Hours”
National Museum of Scotland 1930 on the 22nd August Reviewed 15th August £16 4 stars
The appropriately styled Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland is, by day, a gorgeous Victorian biscuit tin of a building: all glass gables and iron lattices.
At Museum After Hours, it takes on an entirely different atmosphere. Trombone quartet A Slide Too Far welcome you with stylised versions of songbook standards; and blue lamps and champagne replace the flooding sunlight and daytime cafe. Dual booze queues, for wine and beer, pile past one another and the pillars like enormous conga lines playing a game of Snake. Everyone is slightly cheerier and tipsier than they were four hours ago.
The current visiting collection, “Ming: The Golden Empire” (with assistance of Nanjing Museum), is easily recommendable. Too often a collection on Chinese history will have a messy latitudinal scope and focus on spectacle – everything gets washed into a Orientalist fantasia of porcelain vases, ceramic horsemen and jade-pearl-lotus-blossom haircombs.
This collection is both sensibly prosaic, and draws sharp division with the Mongol and Manchu (Qing) dynasties which bookended the Ming. Given that the price of admission covers the exhibition entrance, it almost pays for itself on that regard alone.
Meanwhile, wandering entertainers like Rita Grebe (exploring the “wild side of avians” at the Fringe) bring a exciting performative aspect to the traditional museum guide. Natural history is doubly fascinating when explained by a seven foot tall birdlady.
If all this gives off the suspect tang of kitsch, you’re probably in the target demographic – the air is thick with the clash of middle-class appetites and neuroses. But I don’t mean this in a disparaging way at all. It’s rather invigorating.
Yes, the muzak and mood lighting can sometimes combine to produce an aura of shopping-mall-at-Christmas (with canapés on the side). I found it, however, an exciting experiment in bringing domesticity to the exotic; or frivolity to the austere; or the dynamic to the antique and eternal. By this I mean the event is highly conducive to the sort of light banter that goes well with an pre-opera, post-dinner digestif. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Of the guests I spoke to on the night, almost all were regular visitors to the Museum. I suspect if that descriptor applies to you, you’ll love Museum After Hours. However, I’d really like to see a larger number of tourists and first-timers, because there’s plenty in the permanent collections and the architecture that could be experienced and appreciated by anyone; and no more enjoyable setting possible than a night at the museum.