Most unusual: Weird & wonderful archives, museums, and collections
A guest post by the Decentralised Public Library
Today we’ll be paying tribute to some of the weirdest and most wonderful museums, archives, and historical collections around. These obscure gems demonstrate that for every subject matter, there are people who joyfully dedicate their lives to preserving its treasures. As it’s our mission at Arweave to preserve the digital treasures of our time, we can proudly say that we’re also guilty of hoarding an artefact or two! Here is our top pick of weird and wonderful museum collections from around the world:
Secret sex cabinets
Hidden cabinets of risqué art, documents, and objects have been housed within respectable institutions for many decades now. Often tucked away behind velvet curtains, wooden shutters, or cupboard doors, typically access was permitted only for certain societal groups (mainly well-off, educated men), under the assumption that only they would be able to resist their morally corrupting effects!
Take, for example, the historically infamous ‘Cupboard 55’, of the Secretum at the British Museum, London. The Secretum itself was created in 1865 as a ‘Cabinet of Obscene Objects’ to house all objects, artworks, and documents that the British Museum thought were frankly too saucy for the general public.
However, with the advent of the sexual revolution in the 1960s which radically changed authorities’ and the general public’s view on ‘obscene materials’, the collection was gradually redistributed throughout the rest of the museum where the pieces remain today.
The British Museum make take a more measured approach towards public access to historic erotica in present day, however there’s still restrictions applied to some interesting items — for example a collection of Japanese erotic art including a painting titled ‘Finishing school for tarts’, which is only accessible to visitors under the age of 16 if they are accompanied by an adult.
Breathtaking buildings inside buildings!
Among a vast array of excellent museums on ‘Museum Island’ in Berlin, Germany lies The Pergamon Museum — one of the most well-respected and controversial museums in Europe. As you step into The Pergamon, you are awestruck at the scale of the pieces they have diligently collected, transported, and lovingly reassembled, sourced from the far corners of the Earth.
For example, The Ishtar Gate pictured above was painstakingly deconstructed from its original location in modern-day Iraq (built in 575 AD, it was once the eighth gate to the city of Babylon), and reconstructed within The Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The truly unique museum contains other structures too, a vast 2nd century AD ancient Roman market gate, the base of a huge Neo-Assyrian palace originally constructed in the 12th century BC, and the more modern but truly stunning 17th century ‘Aleppo Room’ containing perfect panels of pristine wooden engravings of Christian scenes.
Although unique in the world for it’s astonishing collection of structures, The Pergamon has been controversial throughout its vivid history, as a vast number of the pieces on display are not German in origin but collected from around the world. In 2013, Turkey demanded a return of its artefacts that it claimed had been seized and exported illegally over a century ago from Turkey. For a flavour of the intensity of this debate, check out this confrontational interview where a reporter from German newspaper Der Spiegel interviews Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik about the return of allegedly stolen artefacts from the Ottoman Empire, accusations of chauvinism, and potential bias in how Turkey grants archeological permits to foreign dig teams.
A little bit of ‘British magic’
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, based in Cornwall, UK, boasts an impressive and eclectic collection of art, documents, and items related to ‘British magical practice’.
Unusually for a museum, the collections suffered dramatic and aggressive reactions from locals at multiple previous locations in Berkshire and Gloucestershire, forcing the museum to relocate to Cornwall due to the hostility from local residents, where thankfully their collections are more welcome.
Their diligent cataloging of beautiful (and sometimes disturbing!) images, documents, and artefacts, allow you to easily browse their ancient, mystical collections by various factors including by associated cult! Check out this wonderful illustration of the mythical mandrake plant — it’s both disturbing and enchanting, literally! Additionally the MWM has a special online archive available by application to researchers, which again is highly commendable.
Currywurst is a firm favourite of Berlin snack food culture, consisting of a chopped up bratwurst sausage, tomato sauce, and curry powder and typically served with a bread roll or fries (or on its own in a little saucy cup!).
Originally invented in the 1940s in wartime Berlin from the meager ingredients available from British troops, today the currywurst remains incredibly popular, with approximately 70 million consumed per year in Berlin alone. Cheap, convenient, simple to make, and very popular — you can begin to see why there might be a whole museum dedicated to the humble currywurst, for now at least…
Sadly, the Currywurst Museum closes its doors for good on the 21st of December this year, which is now just a week away! We would thoroughly recommend a trip paying homage to a humble sausage snack, where all tickets include a tasty little currywurst to polish off your visit, naturally.
There are thousands upon thousands of museums showcasing glorious masterpieces of the art world, from every corner of the globe, but there’s only one who has taken on the challenge of curating and promoting ‘bad art’…
Browsing the vibrant digital collections the MOBA proudly displays via its website is a fun exercise, the pieces are largely vibrant and striking to say the least! Furthermore, the experience is somewhat humbling, with much of the ‘bad art’ donated by the original artist themselves — at the MOBA no one takes art too seriously, which is surprisingly refreshing and enjoyable.
The MOBA’s full collections are currently available online, including: ‘zoo’ (often unsettling animal-related art), ‘poor traits’ (get it, por-traits?), and ‘oozing my religion’ (theologically-themed pieces). It’s worth mentioning that you might never look at a pug the same way again, after experiencing the painting titled ‘Ronan the Pug’, by Erin Rothgeb, from the MOBA’s ‘zoo’ collection…
So there you have it, our top pick of the world’s most unusual, weird and wonderful archives, museums and collections. If there’s any you’d like to share with us, leave a comment below— and be sure to archive your favourite finds on Arweave!