Chocolate; at the Pink Palace Museum

Museum Exhibits, Exhibit Review #1, February 2010
Title: Chocolate: The Exhibition
Dates:  January 30 – May 2, 2010
Museum: Pink Palace Museum
Address: 3050 Central Ave. Memphis, TN 38111

The chocolate exhibit, produced by the Field Museum in Chicago, takes the visitor on a journey through the history (and even pre-history) of chocolate, from the unfamiliar and unsweetened chocolate of the Mayans and Aztecs, to chocolate as we know it today, and even theorizes on the future of chocolate.  In addition, the exhibit focuses on the relationships people have had with chocolate and chocolate’s influence on people from its beginning to today.

I believe this exhibit was very successful; it follows an understandable and cohesive flow from beginning to end.  Each section of the exhibit is headed by an introductory panel that explains the time period and area that segment covers.  The panel also contains a timeline that shows the progress of chocolate throughout time.  Every section also includes the quote “chocolate is…” followed by a phrase describing what each culture represented thought of chocolate.  For instance, the Aztecs saw chocolate as money, and the modern world see chocolate as a global treat.

The divisions included in this exhibit are: Prehistory, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Spanish and transformation of chocolate, Europeans, North Americans, and into the industrial age and then into the future of chocolate globally.  Each time period in the exhibit transitions very smoothly to the next section by using specific vocabulary and physical boundaries that guide the visitor.  The text panels also ease the transition by presenting a timeline that shows that particular section in relation to the previous and following time periods and locations.

The exhibit opens with a display featuring the sponsor of Chocolate, Dinstuhl’s Chocolate Company of Memphis.  Artifacts from throughout the history of the shop, such as chocolate molds, photographs, and equipment bring in the local history of chocolate to the broad subject of global chocolate history.  This may be construed as some advertising, as the sponsor does offer products for sale in the gift shop.  However, the display does not contain any overt advertising.

There are many things about this exhibit that struck me as outstanding, from the colorful and large graphics and the various bright colors that draw the visitor’s eye, to the flow of traffic and general atmosphere.  However, one of the best parts of the exhibit is the opening façade, which draws the visitor in.  The warm glow of a candy shop with comforting colors and mouth-watering chocolates surrounds the entrance to the exhibit in the Bodine Hall.  Once the visitor enters, a picture of a candy shop counter completes the opening veneer.  Unfortunately, no smells of chocolate accompany the beautiful sights of the exhibit.

Regrettably, the magnificent entrance to the exhibit is in sharp contrast to the ending of the exhibit.  Though the last main display in the exhibit is incredible, the actual exit is anti-climactic.  The final central exhibit is an oversized box of chocolates with inset televisions that play video of people from all over the world describing their experiences with chocolate showing that chocolate truly is a global phenomenon.  However, from the television portion of the exhibit the visitor sees a few exhibit cases with modern artifacts of chocolate, and a blank exit back into the museum, which is somewhat disappointing.
The intent of the exhibits seems to be to inform people of all ages about chocolate, with a target audience of the general public, with children and families as a focal audience.  The exhibit strives to explain the history and influence of chocolate on the world, and I believe that it is successful in this intent.  The overt message seems to be that everyone is influenced by chocolate in such aspects of life as holidays, the stock market, and sociology.

Technically, the exhibit is superb.  The text is very readable, regarding both the font and text size as well as content, and draws the visitor in;  the panels have important words in a bold font to show key points.  The panels also contain text in both English and Spanish, providing an enjoyable experience for the Spanish-speaking population, while not taking away from the English.  The language is clear and understandable for the general public.

Chocolate: The Exhibition also contains several hands-on opportunities throughout the exhibit to keep the visitor entertained and involved.  Artifacts are housed in cases that blend into the exhibit very well, such as the Aztec and Mayan temple facades that protect the artifacts within, while maintaining the theme of the section.  The atmosphere is enhanced with appropriate lighting and even sound effects such as rainforest sounds and music appropriate to the cultures and areas represented.  The industrial and modern sections of the exhibit even contain the sounds of factories.  Large pictures of events and the people described throughout the exhibit also provide a great reference for visitors.
The website for Chocolate states:

                        Chocolate will immerse you in a sweet experience, engage

all your senses and reveal facets of chocolate you may have

never thought about before. Observe the plant, the products,

and the history of chocolate through the lenses of botany and

ecology, anthropology and economics, and conservation and

popular culture.[1]

 

The designers and preparers for the exhibit did a great job of producing a product that lives up to the goals expressed by the quote on the website. I would recommend this exhibit to anyone, especially students who wish to learn about exhibits and how to create them successfully.

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