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A visit to the Musée de la Chasse and de la Nature, Paris

With the aim of further exploring the way in which other museums deal with their material, the museum's director took himself off to Paris to visit the inspiring, Musée de la Chasse. Housed within an 18th century building on Rue des Archives, the museum presents an astonishing collection of artefacts and taxidermy relating to Huntin', Shootin', and Fishin'. What makes Musée de la Chasse so different however, is the incredibly unique and original way in which the material is displayed. Information concerning particular animals, such as foxes, wolves, stags and owls, are presented within beautifully designed Wunderkammer. Drawers slide out to reveal the animals’ droppings and footprints, pendants and talismans can be glimpsed in tiny boxes and esoteric film footage can be viewed through twin lenses. The fox cabinet, for instance, showed the entrance to a lair but filmed in real time so that you never quite knew when the creature might appear, as the film is on an hour long loop. Everything invites inspection, free association and reverie. Each detail is considered and nothing is left to chance. Pieces of contemporary art have been carefully woven into the structure of the building so that the collection as a whole can be seen as an installation. Suddenly 18th century Boar's Head tureens become sculptures, and a collection of devices made to emulate the calls of various birds take on a whole new set of meanings. On the upper floor, an entire wall is covered in a forest of trees constructed from corrugated cardboard. Positioned in front is a low plinth with a series of buttons, each relating to a specific bird. Once pressed the forest is filled with birdsong.

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Complex, magical and visionary: In many ways Musée de la Chasse is everything that London's Natural History Museum could be and hopefully one day will be. In the 1980's, when the Natural History Museum was appointed a new director, he took key members of staff to Disneyland and said 'Welcome to the future'. The UK government decided that the common man and woman should pay to visit institutions, which in effect, they already owned. Visitors were now paying guests and were to be offered a diminished experience - galleries were stripped of exhibits and it was decided that information would be best delivered at the touch of a button and lasting preferably no more than 5 seconds. Profit took the place of magic. Absorbed contemplation gave way to spectacle. There are important lessons to be made here. Just because a collection is historic does not mean that new generations will be alienated by it. By knowing the strengths and beauty of their existing collection and adding to it with alluring and carefully chosen contemporary art interventions, the Musée de la Chasse points the way for a truly 21st century museum.

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