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Queues outside the Imperial War Museum, July 2014. Photo: © Imperial War Museum

When IWM London’s First World War Galleries re-opened on 19th July 2014, the queues extended past the big naval guns and out of the gates to the north of the building. On the first day, over 8,000 people came to visit the museum and 60,134 people had come to visit within the first week. Timed entry was also allocated to visitors to prevent overcrowding within the new exhibition.

Photographs from 40 years ago show almost identical queues. However, these were for the Radio Times Colditz Escape Exhibition.

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IWM’s Parveen Sodhi investigates the reports of the Indian Soldiers’ Fund to find a new point of access for the history of Indian troops during the First World War. 

‘Very many thanks for the many comforts you have sent for this Company… the men were very pleased at being remembered by anyone connected with India…’ From an Indian Labour Company, France, 18th January 1918.

Lord Roberts initiated the supply of home comforts and gifts in kind by the Indian Soldiers’ Fund as early as 1914. Roberts – who served in India for over forty years and who was the last Commander in Chief of the Forces – took the greatest personal interest for the provision of the Indian soldiers ‘whom he loved so well’, who had been hospitalised in France during the course of the First World War.

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IWM London - Side View New Atrium © Foster+Partners

Side view of the atrium at IWM London © Foster+Partners

‘The description ‘permanent exhibitions’ is perhaps misleading for our main displays, since it is not the exhibitions which we regard as permanent but rather their themes and content’

Initial Brief for Redevelopment of Main Building of Imperial War Museum, November 1980 (IWM EN4/41/CF/1/1/4/8)

Making an exhibition about the First World War at IWM (Imperial War Museums) is no mean feat. Although IWM has been doing this for 97 years (and 78 years at the museum’s Lambeth Road site) as part of its remit, various factors during this period have influenced what is said, and how and even why it is said. My Collaborative Doctoral Award research focuses on these factors, through examining some of the permanent and temporary IWM First World War exhibitions between 1964 and 2014.

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Image of the main entrance at Budapest's Hospital in the Rock.

The Main Entrance at Budapest’s Hospital in the Rock, 1944 © hospitalintherock

Research Manager at IWM London, Emily Peirson-Webber, describes the history of Budapest’s Hospital in the Rock after a recent trip to the Hugarian capital.

During my recent trip to Budapest, I discovered the enigmatically named ‘Hospital in the Rock’. The site, which appears in the New York Times list of the top ten places to visit in the Hungarian capital and was nominated in the 2014 European Museum of the Year Awards, is still in its infancy as a visitor attraction – it was first opened to the public on a one-off basis in 2007.

The history of the Hospital in the Rock is compelling. Housed in a natural cave system spanning around 10km and located under Budapest’s Castle Hill (a 1km-long plateau situated 170m above the Danube); the site has been in use since the medieval period. However, it was during the Second World War that the caves took on a particularly important role for the city, due to their uniquely sheltered position.

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Image of IWM ART 1255: Long Hope, 1917, Orkney.

Long Hope, 1917. Orkney, Sir John Lavery, IWM ART 1255

Our guest blogger, Angela Weight, was formerly Keeper of Art at Imperial War Museums from 1981 to 2005. Angela curated the exhibition War at Sea currently showing at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery until 31 October 2012. The exhibition consists of paintings by Sir John Lavery, an official war artist during the First World War, and all but one of the paintings are from the art collection of Imperial War Museums.

When I was asked to curate an exhibition of Sir John Lavery’s war pictures for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, I knew at once that I would need to visit as many of the places where he had worked as possible.  The munitions factories in Glasgow, Newcastle and Edinburgh have long since vanished, but the naval ports in Scotland, the Orkney Islands and on the south coast of England are still there, if much changed.  Despite the passage of nearly one hundred years since Lavery was employed as an official war artist, I wanted tread in his footsteps and see what he had seen, in order to understand the man and his work.

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Image of a still from Ori Gersht's film Evaders.
Ori Gersht, Still from Evaders, HD Film, Dual Channel Projection, 2009 © Ori Gersht, courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle

For a large part of the last year I worked on the exhibition Ori Gersht: This Storm is What We Call Progress  which has now been on display at IWM London for three months. One of the most interesting things about the process of putting the exhibition together was how my own understanding of the work developed throughout our logistical, and significantly less poetic, planning discussions. Before working on this show I knew many of Ori’s works well: the cityscapes from Sarajevo which are part of IWM’s collections; his intriguing 2005 film, The Forest, where trees fall without explanation in a Ukrainian forest, and his best-known work, Big Bang, in which a Dutch still life shatters in spectacular slow-motion across the screen. I had also seen some of his Evaders photographs at his gallery show in 2009. This is the work that explores the fated flight of writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin from Vichy France, following a path through the Pyrenees. I hadn’t seen the film of the same name until a much later studio visit, but this was one of the works that became part of the show.

Ori works in a curious way, often employing both film and photographs to explore an idea, a subject or place. The two elements complement each other, but are not to be considered part of the same work. Most importantly, the photographs are very specifically not film stills. They are images produced and crafted in their own right. The Evaders photographs are very empty; the beautiful but harsh landscape of the Pyrenees becomes a dominant protagonist in the images. Intriguingly many of these places don’t actually exist, but are composite images of several sites. The landscape here becomes a construct, an artificial memory. Benjamin’s physical presence is barely registered. It is only through his abandoned suitcase, shown left amongst some jagged rocks, which indicates his absence.  In reality, Benjamin’s suitcase was noted as being found at the scene of his suicide, but later mysteriously disappeared. It was said to contain his final piece of writing and has since become a potent symbol of loss and the mythology surrounding his death.

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