We went mainly to the the latest Gunther von Hagens exhibition, Animals Inside Out, which is a display of his plastination, anatomical and display skills. It is the animal equivalent of the blockbuster Bodyworlds, which I've still not managed to see.
Von Hagens's skills are incredible. And the displays were interesting, revealing and illuminating. They varied from the tiny brain of a hare to a complete giraffe; from a scallop to a shark. The blockbuster pieces had to be the giraffe, an elephant and an entire bull. Oh and this camel which is outside the (paid) exhibition in the impressive Central Hall of NHM underneath the dinosaur's tail!
The actual display pieces were amazing. But having said that I was disappointed. We spent about 45 minutes in the exhibition. I would have liked to spend longer there, and would have done had there been any more to see. The expense of putting on an exhibition like this is immense; GOK how much it costs and how much time it takes to plastinate an ostrich, let alone a bull or a giraffe! But even so I felt the exhibition was a bit thin, both in the number and variety of exhibits and the information provided. I would have liked many more examples.
Especially I would have liked a lot more explanation of what I was looking at. My anatomy is pretty damn good for a non-medic/zoologist/vet. I know where a fish's gill plates are but does Joey Schoolboy? But I don't know the detail of how a sheep's guts are arranged. And I wanted to be told, if only with some labelled diagrams. I felt the explanatory texts were much too terse. OK many people don't want, and can't take in, huge amounts of detail. So put that detail in separate panels which they can choose not to read.
Oh, you mean the detail is all in the book of the exhibition? But why do I have to buy the book? OK so it's only £12.99, but I neither want nor need the book. I wanted to be told what I was looking at! But then the exhibition is only £9 (full price) which I thought very reasonably priced — I'd expected it to be more like £15 or even £20. So I suppose I shouldn't complain.
After the exhibition we went to the main restaurant for coffee and cake (the NHM has something like four food outlets and as many shops!). This was another depressing experience. The restaurant system is so arcane (and unwelcoming) they have to employ someone full time to explain it to people. The décor was fairly dire. The only saving grace was that the chocolate fudge cake was fairly good.
Then after that I wanted to look at the fishes. What fishes?! The fish displays seem to consist of four wall displays tucked in a blind corridor at the back of nowhere. And totally uninteresting. This was old style museum display at its worst: a selection of almost random exhibits stuck in a case with nothing to make it at all interesting, no obvious variety of different biotypes (marine vs freshwater; tropical vs temperate). The marine invertebrate displays next door were exactly the same: a huge room with very boring displays in wall cases and nothing else.
After that, and looking at the plastinated camel and (over-hyped) dinosaur in the Central Hall my back was complaining so we didn't investigate further. Maybe we should have done and maybe some of the other displays would have been better, but it didn't look enticing. So we gave in and came home.
OK so what's the bottom line?
If you're interested in the broad ideas of how animals work then do go and see Animals Inside Out. It is worth the admission charge; just don't expect too much. If you go expecting anatomical detail and explanation, as I did, you'll be disappointed. And judging by our experience if you go on a mid-week early afternoon during school term the exhibition will be quiet.
As for the rest, frankly I won't be going back in a hurry.
Sorry guys, but I much expect better of major world museum in this day and age.