During my time in the Netherlands, I had a bit of time to visit other museums. As I found last year, Dutch museums seem to be at a very high standard, in conceptualization, design and ways to engage audiences. I saw an exhibit on Mata Hari at the Fries Museum in Leuuwarden.
Like most people, I knew the name Mata Hari, and not much else about her. She was, however, from Friesland and has a fascinating story: exotic dancer, World War I spy and killed by a firing squad.
But equally fascinating was the exhibition. It was just a single large, square, high-ceiling room. As you look at the walls, you think, "hmmm...wallpaper..." and then you look up close and see that the wallpaper is really floor to ceiling images of the female human form, some with tattoos and some not, overlaid with writing from documents. So in the room itself, you're immediately immersed in the female body.
Large banners with images of her at different points in her life were around the room, and small framed sections held text and small objects. Interestingly, I later saw this same sort of frame in a shop, so it was an off-the-rack solution. For each section of her life, there was also a form with a dress similar to one in the photograph, and in the center of the room (above) was the image of her in her dance costume and the love-seat-like case held one of her original costumes.
The exhibit was created by two artists, Tilly Buij and Gerard Groenewoud, and it makes a strong argument for involving artists in different kinds of museum work. Evidently there are not many Mata Hari objects in existence, so the work of creating an engaging exhibition relied on the talents of the artists in creating a space that was unusual and visually compelling. As a result, the space encouraged exploration by the visitor. In this project the content and the design worked beautifully together. The top image? You didn't see that when you entered the room, you had to walk around to see it, making it a surprise!