The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum – Research Task

On Monday 28th October 2013, our original timetable for the day had to be changed due to “adverse weather conditions”. Instead of a full day of learning, we went in for an hour in which we got given a research task to complete. The details of this task are given below, along with my responses and photographs (please note, the reason behind the poor quality images is the fact that they were taken on a smartphone):

Research Task:

Write two 500-word (maximum) reflections on two different pieces within the museum.

Reflect about:

  • How much do we learn about the object?
  • What was its previous life?
  • Is it represented successfully in terms of it’s meaning?
  • Does it take labels to help understand it’s true representation?


Arriving at The Herbert, our class of approximately 25 students were lead into an exhibition hall entitled “The History Gallery”.  Once stepping into this hall, we were greeted by a sign (shown below) with a very brief description as to the sections within this exhibition. We were then ushered to the opposite end of the hall into the “City of Dreams” area where our teaching assistant discussed her example of an interesting item and told us more about what she wanted, broadening the brief and giving us a greater understanding of what was required. After this, we were then lead to her second interesting item, found in the “City of Industry” zone, where she again discussed her example, anchoring what was compulsory for the completion of this task.

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Once these two talks were complete, we were then asked to scout around the exhibition, looking for our own examples of pieces that interested us. After much consideration, I finally decided upon my two items, both of which were found in the “City of Dreams” section.

The first item that I chose was that of an Irish Dancing dress. I chose this particular item as I am very familiar with the concept of Irish Dancing as I took part in both competitions and grading’s up to a couple of years ago. With this in mind, I obviously knew quite a bit about the object in question and so I was very intrigued to see the relevance it had in relation to Coventry’s history. Unfortunately, when looking at the surrounding labels, which are meant to give a greater insight, there wasn’t really anything that highlighted its significance and meaning. As a viewer, there was nothing there suggesting it’s previous life, and if you weren’t familiar with the object, there wasn’t much useful information about this artifact. The cluttered display that the piece was hung in also seemed to have been ordered randomly as it was placed with items that didn’t seem as though they should be viewed together. This display therefore took this artifact out of its context and didn’t include anything that could be used as an aid of contextualizing the object individually.

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The second interesting artifact I chose was a 2D Capstan Lathe. I actually chose this particular item as I have never seen one before, and I genuinely didn’t know anything about this type of machinery. I therefore thought that it would be really interesting to learn what it does and the history behind it. Unfortunately, upon looking at the given information, it didn’t tell me what it actually did, but it did give a brief introduction to the history behind it. This, paired with the fact that this huge piece of machinery was displayed by itself, meant that the context behind the object had completely vanished. If I wanted to learn more about this object, I would have had to undertake my own research, outside of the gallery, which most members of the public would not want. We, as viewers of the artifacts, want to go to a gallery where the most important information was already displayed for us, allowing us to find all the important and relevant information in one place.

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Overall, if the entire gallery exhibition mirrored the same aspects as these two examples, I would simply describe it using three words or phrases: disorganized, minimal relevance, and a lack of context. However, I cannot technically assume this without having witnessed the exhibition as a whole. If I were to read all of the information given to me throughout the gallery, the meaning behind the exhibition itself may in fact provide context to each individual artifact. The important thing that should be found within exhibitions, that I have learnt today, is that context is key.