I attended a fascinating lecture by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett “Curating between hope and despair: Creating POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews” at University of Auckland.
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is Professor Emerita at New York University and author of several books on museums and Jewish life. She is Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and has since had 3 million visits and won several awards.
She spoke about the development of the POLIN museum and, most interestingly, the curatorial principles to the main exhibition.
The museum is site specific, being built on the space of the former Warsaw ghetto and started without a collection or many objects. The key idea of the exhibition is to show 1000 years of Jewish history in Poland. It wants visitors to experience this long history, integral to Polish history, by experiencing key periods of this history in the moment. This means not to view it through the lens of the Holocaust, but to honour how the Jewish community lived over centuries, exploring and celebrating their lives using some objects and interactive and immersive installations. It shows the Holocaust also in the moment, how people experienced it then and there. And the story continues to the post-war period.
With this approach the POLIN museum wants to tell the whole story of Jewish life in Poland and situate it in a 1000 year history to offer visitors a bigger picture.
A fascinating lecture. An interview with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is linked here.