Eleanor went to Te Papa yesterday. For Eleanor, Te Papa was a series of enormous, empty rooms and long flights of stairs. She flung herself across the acres of grey tiles and carpet squares in great bursts of energy until she collided with a stranger or tripped herself up. Te Papa didn’t make much sense to her. For Daddy, Te Papa was calling “Eleanor” across large rooms, smiling apologetically at strangers, and kissing imaginary scraped knees.
I remember when Te Papa opened. A foreign museum critic dared to say that Te Papa was a bit silly, architecturally, and a bit too much like a theme park. Apparently this is a debate that musuem people have. Should museums be silent rooms for the passive admiring public, or should they be interactive places? I bet a lot of bitter ink has been spilt in the letters to the editor section of Museum Quarterly (or whatever it is museum staff read) about this. Te Papa is both things really, but you have to pay to get into most of the bits where you silently admire things; the exhibition spaces. It is a bit of a mixed success architecturally, but I like enough of it not to care too much.
Eleanor found two things to do in Te Papa. In the first of the rooms designed for kids she spent quite a lot of time wrestling a large soft toy penguin to the ground. The penguin put up quite a lot of resistance but Eleanor was tenacious. Final score: Eleanor 4, Penguin 2. In the second room for kids (what are they called? Adventure Zones?), Eleanor spent time sorting plastic food into baskets, buckets and a set of scales. Eleanor loves plastic food. A room with plastic food in it was always going to be a surefire winner.
The museum critic would not have been amused. Stuffed penguin toys and plastic food! Mind you, he probably doesn’t have kids.