In a way, the museum punts on this question (which is what Ouroussoff perversely likes about it) by creating a building which use earth tones and organic shapes to create a new "context" for the objects, which are spotlighted almost like exotic birds in a post-post-modern river and forest. I loved many of the objects--they are beautiful and beautifully lit (mostly). But I also had no idea which region I was in (Is this Oceania or Americas?), never did find the interpretive kiosks, was annoyed by the ever-so-long ramp to the exhibit level that offered neither artifacts nor interpretation, and couldn't find the exit when I was ready to leave. But this isn't about me.
A few observations:
- Unlike many new US museums, Quai Branly doesn't seem to be set up to be a venue for parties and other events. The lobby is small and unassuming and the exhibit area is cramped–there is no good place for a party. The focus is on getting people in and out of the formal exhibit area.
- Ticketing is outdoors (fine in June) and has only three stations. Capacity control appears to take place in the ticket queue.
- The visible storage cylinder that runs up through the west end of the museum was ignored by everyone. Dim lighting and densely packed artifacts did not draw anyone's attention.
- I couldn't help thinking "This is what the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian might have been without the Indians." (And I won't elaborate on that comment as it would be a much longer post.)
- I liked the building. Despite its bulk, it was inviting and functional.
- The "architecture to exhibit area" ratio was very high–this was not an efficient museum.