Exhibition Review: Oceania


Exhibitions at the Cinquantenaire Museum have a lot of live up to. Whilst it is one of the least known museums in Belgium, and often gives the impression of being grossly underfunded (most general admission halls don’t even have heating in winter, be warned), it generally puts up exhibitions that can easily rival with those in big museums of international reknown such as the British Museum. This time they teamed up with the Museum for Middle Africa, which means they had access to more pieces than just their own collection.

So was Oceania on that same level? Stick with this review and find out!

First let me start by saying Oceania has a lot of value for those interested in the geographic area’s history and the exploration of that part of the world.

It IS a good exhibit, no question there, BUT…

I’m not going to beat around the bush. The Cinquantenaire can, and has done so several times in a row, better. It’s a good exhibit, but it’s sub-par for a museum with the track record of the Cinquantenaire.

Expo Oceania

The set-up, which is generally something they excell at, is often times very chaotic. Right at the entrance even it’s unclear whether you’re go start left or right. And during the exhibit, several parts have been set-up in a way that you are really tracking around to find them. This isn’t a big issue on a quiet(er) day, but if it’s crowded, it’s easy to overlook and miss out.

It may also be an impression, but the exhibit was remarkably smaller than others we’ve visited. Or maybe it just seemed that way because there were definitely less items on display.

The crown pieces of the exhibit, the giant heads (the Easter Island replica and the Chili original) are pieces people that visit the Cinquantenaire regularly have seen multiple times already, so it’s kind of hard to call them the crown piece.

Expo Oceania

That all said, there were definitely some very interesting points to the exhibit, also.

Their addition of a children’s area, specially catered to kids, was definitely a nice point. The way they presented information was also a good one. Via wall plaques in French, Dutch and English visitors were informed of history and custom without being boring. They were both interesting and educational, as it should be.

Expo Oceania

The globes presenting the routes important explorers from times past, such as
Magellan and Cook, were definitely both cool and incredibly interesting. The maps and scale builds of the ships, as well as the art plates, all a very nice touch.

There definitely were some interesting items on display, but they felt very scattered and just so very few compared to what we’re used of the Cinquantenaire.

Another interesting part was the documentary playing in one area. The only downside was that there was absolutely no indication of run time and when it would start from the beginning. So it was quite hard to take it all in if you wanted to. Which was an issue because it was actually really good. Not just to gain more information about Oceanea, but also to see more about how documentaries were put together decades ago. So that felt like another missed opportunity.

Just like with the photographs of seafaring tools. Why not display the actual tools instead of a small part of a wall full of photos?

Expo Oceania

Whilst I feel that the final room of the exhibit, displaying modern art pieces by Taihitian artist Jean-Paul Forest was a nice touch, I feel it could have been put to better use for more actually historical pieces. Or they should have presented less of Mr Forest’s work so there was more space for them.

(Also, more museum supervision to make sure visitors behave would probably be a good plan, because we saw a LOT of people touching items, or using flash photography).

Like I said, the exhibit was far from bad. Even if you have no connection at all with Oceanea or the golden age of exploration by sea, it’s interesting. With a lot of things that are definitely worth looking at. It’s just, and I know I’m repeating myself, that this museum can do better, and they have done so in the past.

That said, this shouldn’t stop you from visiting, because it’s still well worth the visit. Especially as you can see the entire museum on your exhibit ticket and the Cinquantenaire is absolutely worth spending the day in.

You can still visit Oceania, travels through immensity ’till April 29th of this year.

Let’s hope that by the time their next exhibition INCA dress code.

More photos of Oceania and the museum in general, are here.

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