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At The Met, Textiles And Technology = Bad Match

TextilesLet me say from the outset that the Metropolitan Museum’s* Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800 — billed as “the first major exhibition to explore the international transmittal of design from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century through the medium of textiles” — is a wonderful exhibition. The items — costumes, bedcovers, hangings, vestments, fragments — number 134 and, to me at least, they seem beautifully chosen. And the gallery design, with rich wall colors and varied displays, is suitably theatrical, roomy and well-paced. That’s one gallery, at left. that provides a peek at what I’m talking about.

There’s just one problem — it’s a small but it’s symptomatic.

FrenchMApInside the first gallery, there’s a large display screen that shows the trade routes of Portugal, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Spain, 1500-1800. Trouble is, the routes are animated, so they pop up as little dots emanating from each country, one at a time. Never does the viewer see all five countries’ routes on the same screen. Equally poor, visitors have to wait for each country, sequentially — spending more time than it’s worth, given the tiny amount of information they receive.

Have a look at this photo, at right (apologies for the angle), which shows the French routes.

BookMapNow take a look at the photo below it — it’s the inside cover of the exhibition catalogue.

Which gives you more information, faster? The book map, of course.

I am not against all technology in the galleries. I’ve praised some uses of it, such as here. But the addition of technology for technology’s sake strikes me as inane.

If the target of this map — and there was one of similarly low value in the museum’s Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom show — if those elusive young people brought up on technology, surely these are inadequate. Could the Met really think that young people would be excited by such simple, low-value animation?

By contrast, here’s a good use of technology — not in the galleries, but on the web. Click on this link, and you will be able to see 134 objects in the textiles exhibition. Now’s that wonderful technology.

Let’s nip the other kind in the bud, before it gets too common.



  1. The irony of the fact that the map doesn’t work is that the emphasis of the exhibit is on the extraordinary, astonishing skill of the handiwork of the textiles. All that exquisite embroidery, painting, weaving, dyeing, and sewing was done by human hands. And one of the videos in the Silla exhibit shows how much technology a modern restorer needs to duplicate the exquisite jewelry of 5th-7th century Korea. (The gold jewelry in this exhibit is jaw-dropping.) It’s sad to think how many skills have been lost but almost exhilarating to realize what marvels the human hand can create (or at last, could create).

    • The video in the Silla exhibition showing restoration, which if memory serves, includes a wonderful rotation portion, is very good. So is the video showing how the Seokguram Grotto was built. It’s the map that’s pretty useless.

    • The exhibition’s focus isn’t on the handiwork of the textiles. It’s really about the interaction of international tastes and techniques, which is what the map appears to display.

  2. I agree that the map didn’t add anything to this wonderful show. The map display was so large, while the informative “How Chintz is Made” interactive video was on such a small screen, and so discretely placed in the gallery, that it was easy to miss. I always enjoy reading your posts Judith, thank you.

  3. Happily, the Chintz video is available through the Met’s website, here:

  4. Thanks for the link. The complexity of the process is amazing.

  5. I really enjoyed your post Judith, and thank you for the link, quite amazing.

  6. I’ve been seeing this with increasing regularity. In San Francisco, we had our natural history/science museum remodeled a few years ago. The new Academy is a poorly designed, dumbed-down shell of its former self. The biggest let down? Its overuse of useless technology like you described in this article. 🙁

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