I’m not always the biggest fan of dioramas. For me, most have always been a little too dark, a little too static, and just never sparked my imagination the way they do for so many others.
I appreciate dioramas. I value the role they play in museums, and I am in awe of the skill that goes into creating them (taxidermy is hard. The first time I stuffed a grackle it came out shaped like a Popple).
But dioramas usually aren’t my favorite. Usually.
However, I’ve been working in Wald, the new Black Forest exhibit at the Freiburg Naturmuseum, and those dioramas? Those I like.
What’s enjoyable is the informal feeling the dioramas have. They’re simple, sometimes silly, and don’t take themselves too seriously. This approach is perfect for the museum’s audience, primarily families with young children. However, because the dioramas manage to be fun and quirky without feeling juvenile, the exhibit doesn’t have a strictly “children’s museum” vibe.
Here are some of the exhibit elements I like:
Bright Colors, Lots of Light, Quirky Angles
Nothing in Wald is dark. The space is open, the colors are bright and eye-catching, and everything feels light and airy. This isn’t the Black Forest of the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
A Mixture of the Abstract and Realistic
The animals are real, but the background murals and some foreground elements are much more “minimal realism.” Bold lines and bright colors, much more like a Charley Harper illustration than the actual forest. It’s a gorgeous combination. Just look how the light shines through that leaf.
The scenes also aren’t just inside the dioramas. Tree branches burst out of the cases, a fox peers down from the roof onto unsuspecting deer (and visitors), two martens face-off across the room, and exotic birds (complete with passports) perch above. These extensions of the exhibits create a more immersive feeling, and the animals seem more alive.
Plus, at least two of the critters are mooning you.*
And speaking of butts…
This little gem is on the floor underneath the passport-carrying tropical birds. There are also kiddo-level peepholes at the back of some dioramas to showcase other scatological surprises.
Initial visitor observations indicate that visitors are enjoying the dioramas, too. Overall visit duration is long, individual exhibit element attendance and engagement is high, conversations are animated, and everyone loves the poop.
What about you? Are you pro-dioramas? Con? Are you more of a traditionalist when it comes to diorama scenes, or do you prefer to think outside the glass? And can anyone help me learn to taxidermy a better bird?
*I will never apologize for my love of animal butts. I have an entire photo album dedicated to the animal butts of the Denver Zoo. I made it into a calendar. Everyone who knows me in real life, pretend to be surprised when you get one for Christmas.
I love this behind-the-scenes at the AMNH’s dioramas that the Huffington Post published.
I also love the deconstructed, diorama-ish Biodiversity Wall in the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. But I was one of the exhibit’s developers, so I’m shamelessly biased.
For another example of dioramas with some surprises, check out the hidden elves at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
And for some traditional dioramas that are pretty kick-ass looking, Russell Dornan’s visit to the Powell-Cotton Museum is perfect.