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Royal Beasts at the Tower - Opportunities Missed

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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Royal Beasts at the Tower - Opportunities Missed

The new Kendra Haste Baboons have arrived at the Tower of London in time to mark today's official "opening" of the summer's Royal Beasts exhibition.


The baboons are magnificent and now join a fellow baboon, a polar bear and the three lions at the entrance. I have posted on all these before, click on the Kendra Haste label for images.

However the elephant will not be installed until July and the original commission was for 13 animals. Even when the elephant is installed there will only be 9 animals in place. Will the other 4 ever be displayed?

Historic Royal Palaces have already started promoting the exhibition but it is far from complete. With a standard adult ticket now costing £19.80 and a child's ticket £10.45, I think this is grossly unfair.

The exhibition on the fascinating story of the Royal Menagerie's history dating back to 1255 is actually very small indeed. You can read almost all the text direct from the website and the only real exhibits are Kendra Haste's wonderful wire animals.

Due to the inflexible attitude of staff one cannot even go straight to the exhibition up the Jewel House stairs to the Brick Tower but must backtrack, some distance, to the entrance of the East Wall Walk first. I can understand the one-way, conveyor belt system when the Tower is busy but today I was there at 9.30am and nobody at all was using the broad staircase I wanted to go up. I was however able to visit the shop a few yards away using a similar staircase. H&S rules are different if you are purchasing souvenirs apparently.

Inside the shop I checked to see if there was any merchandise connected with the exhibition. There was nothing. Were there any books I might have liked to purchase about the Tower Menagerie? No. Not even copies of Daniel Hahn's interesting "The Tower Menagerie" let alone a brand new work to tie in with the exhibition. When any other museum or gallery puts on a new show the bookshop is usually filled with items related to the exhibition. HRP buying policy is peverse.

Needless to say there is nothing about the artist who has provided the only valid reason for visiting the exhibition - Kendra Haste. No video, no biography panel, no photo, zilch.

Signage to the exhibition is either non-existent or is so poor that I didn't see it. The animals themselves stand with no interpretation boards nearby. You can see bemused visitors just glancing at them, unaware of why they are there at all.

Of course the Tower of London is a magnificent, must see, place in its own right. Nearly £20 is probably a fair price for a full day visit. But £20 for a very small exhibition promoted like a blockbuster at the RA, The British Museum and The Wellcome is far too steep. All the above not only display far many more exhibits, they document their exhibitions superbly and their book and gift shops are full of genuinely interesting connected merchandise. All the above are also far cheaper and in the Wellcome's case completely free.

If you have never been to the Tower, then do so and I am sure you will have a great day, check the sculptures as you walk around. I really wouldn't want to put you off.

If you have been before, are not a member and particularly want to see this exhibition then I really would give it a miss until at least July when the life-size elephant arrives.You can do the whole exhibition in 20 mins.

Such a shame,a fantastic story to tell, superb new sculptures to accompany the history and yet the whole thing has fallen flat. As I left the Tower, a bus plastered with the exhibition posters passed me and I felt really cross.

I will post the elephant when it arrives and note any improvements that have been made.

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2 Comments:

At 16 June 2011 at 19:57 , Anonymous Gary Griffith said...

Hi There,
Love this blog so much. Good article but can I suggest the HRP`s membership which is currently about £49 and will get you in to all of the palaces including The Tower for that fee for one year. I love the Tower and run a website called Celebrate London which shines a spotlight on all the great things about London. http://celebratelondon.net/ Do check it out and congratulations on a great blog.
Kind Regards,
Gary

 
At 17 June 2011 at 10:22 , Blogger Peter Berthoud said...

Hi Gary,

Thank you so much for your kind comments. It's always such a kick to hear that someone is enjoying this blog.

Your own website is pretty impressive! Very comprehensive and it does exactly what you say, celebrates our great city. I wish I had your web skills!

You are quite right to point out the membership option for HRP. I am a member myself and love the Tower and the other Royal Palaces. The membership does give excellent value for money.

When the Royal Beasts Exhibition is complete, I will post again and make sure the membership prices are quoted prominently.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment here and for pointing out the best value way to visit the Tower.

All the very best,

Pete

 

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