BigNews.Biz - Apr 01,2011 - COLUMBUS, OH — International interest has piqued as the Columbus' Ohio Historical Society (OHS) prepares to launch Controversy: Pieces You Don’t Normally See. This dramatic exhibit opens Friday, April 1, 2011 and runs through Sunday, November 20, 2011 at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus. The exhibit is an innovative departure from typical exhibits in that it focuses on a limited collection of objects and provides limited interpretation for the visitor.
Controversy features objects from the permanent OHS collection. For most visitors, this will be the first opportunity to see these objects in a museum setting. They include the electric chair from the old Ohio Penitentiary, a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, a sheepskin condom, a crib-bed cage that restrained patients at a state mental institution and a thumb mitt once used to prevent children from sucking their thumbs.
“Objects are not controversial—they are neutral,” said Sharon E. Dean, Ph.D., director of Museum and Library Services, and one of the senior OHS staff who helped envision the exhibit. “We give objects meaning by projecting our own memories, emotions or prejudices onto them. And those meanings change over time. Each object represents a part of Ohio’s history and we encourage visitors to this exhibit to find their own ways to connect to the objects.”
Traditionally, history museums use objects to explain a great deal about historical subjects from a scholarly point of view. For this exhibit, rather than explain their significance, OHS felt it was important to allow these objects to stand on their own, according to Dean.
Burt Logan, OHS Executive Director said, “It’s important to find a safe space to explore controversial subjects. One of the attributes of this exhibit is its ability to generate conversations about complex issues in Ohio’s history. Ohio, as a pivotal center of history, has been involved in many challenging issues. When viewing these pieces, we suggest that you consider their places in their original context and think about how they may relate to basic beliefs in a democratic society.”
Studies show that layers of content desensitize the visitor and don’t allow the objects to stand on their own. The OHS is using this innovative approach so that an institutional voice won't interfere with a visitor’s honest reaction.
“It’s risky, but we respect Ohio's citizens and guests and look forward to learning their reactions,” Dean said. “It’s a curious phenomenon about objects. They are neutral in and of themselves, yet their presence in a space can evoke very powerful reactions. That’s why one really has to experience the exhibit to explore personal reactions to the objects. I promise you, after you experience the exhibits, you will have reactions you want to share.”
OHS worked with Washington D.C.-based design team Howard and Revis, known for work on sensitive and highly attended exhibits, including the September 11th Memorial, the National Museum of the American Indian and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In order to encourage dialogue and facilitate the exchange of ideas on different topics