Peabody Essex Museum Review

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Useful Info:

  • Collections: Fine and decorative arts from the five continents between the 18th century and today; also temporary exhibitions.
  • City: Salem, MA, USA.
  • Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm, and until 9pm the third Thursday of every month.
  • Price: $18 regular, $15 students, $10 for children under 16 and free for members and residents of Salem.
  • Website

I’m having a little bit of trouble remembering the exact steps of my visit, partly because it was in June but mostly because the PEM is a museum with very eclectic collections and exhibitions in galleries that are not organized and laid out in the most logical way. It is the kind of museum you can explore freely without referring to a specific itinerary on the map. It is also not huge so walking around without following directions works there. You wouldn’t get lost. So I’m not going to go into too much details about how the museum is laid out and I’m just going to say that my visit took approximately 2 hours.

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For me, there were two things that stood out about the PEM. First, since we’re still on the topic of layout; I found that despite beautiful architecture and a promising ongoing expansion, circulation in the museum was often a problem. There are lots of dead ends in most galleries, so you always have to go back into a couple of rooms you’ve already seen. To move between the main parts of the museum, you have to pass by the atrium (pictured above) which is more or less in the middle.

That problem is a shame because the collections and exhibitions were great. There’s an array of things from Asian art to American art. Below is a picture of an ivory lobster in the Asian export galleries. I wanted to post it as a separate museum entry but the PEM doesn’t have a good collection database online. I really enjoyed the collections, and I was surprised to see this much Asian art in Salem, of all places. There is even a reconstruction of a Chinese house (but I didn’t visit it).

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I also saw three exhibitions which are now over: Audacious: The Fine Art of Wood, which made me want to be a wood artist because there was so much skills involved in the artworks; Branching Out: Trees as Art, which was a bit more child oriented; and Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals which was my favorite and led me to discover this series of photographs.

Finally I’d like to mention the thing I liked most about the PEM, which was, strangely enough, in the Maritime Art galleries. I’m not a fan of seascapes, it’s just personal taste. I find them repetitive and I get bored of them easily. But the PEM did something great in that gallery which caught my interest. They have an unsigned seascape in their collection; which some experts attribute to James Buttersworth and some others to Antonio Jacobsen. The unsigned painting is displayed between one piece of each painter; and there is a panel explaining both arguments. The visitor is left free to decide which side to join. I thought this was a fun and engaging way to make the collection interactive without being authoritative.

Rating

  • Accessibility (location, price, disabled access, transport links and parking): 7.5/10
  • Architecture: 8/10
  • Collections: 9/10
  • Display: 8/10
  • Resources (explanation panels, guides, plans): 8/10
  • Extras (shop, events, exhibitions): 7.5/10
  • Overall: 8/10
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