The museum diorama: caught between art and history

Kerby, Martin and MacDonald, Abbey and McDonald, Janet and Baguley, Margaret (2017) The museum diorama: caught between art and history. Australian Art Education, 38 (2). pp. 354-371. ISSN 1032-1942


Perhaps more than any other type of museum display, dioramas, particularly those in military museums, are expected to be all things to all people. To justify their role as an explanatory tool they must be 'accurate' representations of history, yet to survive in the modern museum environment they must also be artefacts or artworks in their own right, flexible enough to adjust to changing tastes and perceptions. Diorama artists are constrained, however, by three seemingly incompatible approaches: representing a single moment in a complex event, compressing timelines in order to show multiple 'moments', and the creation of a hypothetical, generic representation of 'battle'. The issue of scale is also problematic, for the more a diorama shows of a battle, the less it is able to communicate the individual human experience of conflict. To engage with individual trauma in this manner is nevertheless problematic given that the great battles of history are traditionally linked to national achievement, yet the modern conception of war is increasingly one that characterises it as a destroyer of civilisations rather than a stepping stone in the creation of the nation state. This article explores how The Royal Armouries (Leeds, UK), The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum (Winchester, UK) and the Australian War Memorial (Canberra, Australia), have grappled with these issues, ones which position dioramas uneasily between art and history.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: © Art Education Australia.
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Teacher Education and Early Childhood
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2018 00:31
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2018 04:07
Uncontrolled Keywords: dioramas, diorama artists, history, military, museums, representation, war
Fields of Research : 21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
21 History and Archaeology > 2102 Curatorial and Related Studies > 210204 Museum Studies
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210305 British History
19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190599 Visual Arts and Crafts not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9503 Heritage > 950399 Heritage not elsewhere classified
C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft)

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