Dude, You Got the Holocaust All Wrong

I’m not generally a critical guy and I don’t like to indulge in negativity, but I call it like I see it, and I have to tell you that the new Holocaust Center in Norway… in a word… blows. And I know what I’m talking about. I’m a fan of holocaust museums. I’ve been to ones in Bucharest, Berlin, Los Angeles, elsewhere (though not DC — I’m told that’s the granddaddy of them all). The one here has an interesting story to tell, the story of Jews who either did or did not get turned over to the Nazis during the time of Norway’s occupation… but they totally blew it.

The way I see it, there are three main problems with the Center.

The first: no information in English. Okay, I’m not anglocentric, but come on. The Center is just down the road from the Viking Museum, the Flam Museum, the Kontiki Museum — they HAVE to know that they’ll get a ton of international traffic. And they make no allowances for this. Seriously, who builds a modern museum in a major European city in this day and age and doesn’t have information in English? That’s a fail.

Second fail: big display problems. The space should lend itself to excellent exhibits, for it is housed in the mansion owned by Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling, from whom we get the word Quisling. But the rooms are all chopped up, and the lines of sight on all the exhibits is off-angle. Almost everything is too close or too distant for easy viewing. Plus, there’s almost nothing about Quisling. That’s not a design problem, but come on…

Third, everything is way overthought. Clearly the architect and the museum curator were more interested in making a statement — see how “designy” we can be — than in making the museum’s information accessible. Space is wasted, misused… mangled. It occurred to me that maybe this is what the designers had in mind: to make the viewing sufficiently uncomfortable that you felt the Holocaust on some visceral level. But, no, I don’t think so. I think they just got carried away with their own “vision.”

In my workshops I draw the distinction between “serving the work” and “serving the ego.” Bottom line on this museum, it does not serve the work. What should be an examination of the Holocaust is instead a celebration of the bright boys and girls behind the Center. I want to say go back and start over, because as Holocaust museums go, this one doesn’t even make my top ten — and I’ve only been to five.

There, I’ve had my rant. Make of it what you will.

More later,  -jv