Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Cincinnati Museum Center

This past Saturday Antoine and I set aside the entire morning to go to the Cincinnati Museum Center.  Everyone in Cincinnati raves about the Museum Center...its art deco details, the three museums in one building, and the Omnimax.  And when Antoine would say that he's never been and he's lived here 5 years people would gasp (no, seriously, my coworker literally gasped!).  And the fact that I've only been there once, to see one specific exhibit, surprised people.  So, we felt it was time to see what the Museum Center was all about!

And those of you who follow me on twitter know exactly how things went...not so great.  Upon arriving to the CMC and paying the $6 to park we went to pick up our tickets at will call.  Grumpy ticket lady gave us no guidance or even a flippin' map of the place.  Seriously, would it kill you to say "Have a nice day!"?  I don't care if you mean it or not, fake the smile and say it!  I've worked in retail, I know it's a drag, but Jesus Christ, come on lady!

Anyway, we went first thing in the morning, as the doors were opening, so it was fairly quiet and we immediately headed toward the Natural History portion of the museum.  It was practically a dead zone in there.  There were no museum attendants and only a handful of people (which was kind of nice because that meant no screaming kids).  I grew up going to the Cleveland Natural History's old but it's good.  This, this was not good.  This was sad, worn out and showed a very very limited view of natural history.  The resin skeletons were depressing and the displays looked old.  Several of the displays/exhibits were almost in the dark or so poorly lit that you couldn't see anything.  The ice cave made me feel like I was going through a giant tunnel of plastic, despite the fact that air was blowing on my feet.  And the bat cove portion scared the living shit out of me...I felt like I was in a horror movie, and I didn't like it.

 Stuffed polar bear posed in front of what looks like two bedsheets and exposed pipes...nice.

 Creepy ass bat cave, which I could see kids really getting into but the weird little windows in it with fake moles and the several  completely empty exhibit cases inside made it a little sad looking.

 I felt like there was a big buffalo theme going on...lots of buffalo.  But not like real stuffed buffalos, resin (aka very fake looking) buffalo skeletons (note: this is the more realistic looking of the skeletons).

 The ice cave.  Should have been cool, but was kind of lame.

 WTF?!  Why does that elephant(?) have no lower half!?  I'm confused.

 Hands down, my favorite part of this section of the museum was the Giant Ground Sloth.  It's something I've never heard of before (and kind of wondered if they made it up), but damn, I wish they were still around...I love sloths!

I wondered if my very negative feelings toward the museum were stemming from the fact that the last museum I visited was the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, which, come on, can't be beat.  Except maybe by the Museum of Natural History in NYC or the Field Museum in Chicago, which I've also been to and love.  But when I voiced this thought to Antoine, he shot it down.  He said that even if you didn't compare it to those other museums it was old and tired...and it's kind of true.  And when compared to some of Cincinnati's other museums (CAM and CAC), CMC just looked tired and a little neglected.

So, we left the Natural History portion pretty disappointed.  But we had hope that the Cincinnati History portion would be, at the very least, a little better.  And it was.  Still, it didn't blow me out of the water...but there were portions that I really liked.  It was the first weekend of the Duke Energy Holiday Train exhibit being at Union Terminal, instead of Duke Energy Center where it normally resides every year.  Antoine and I were looking forward to this, since neither of us had ever been and we've always heard people talk about the exhibit every holiday season.  Here's the thing...I don't really like trains.  I mean, if I got to ride one through some beautiful scenery, sure, that would be awesome.  But model trains, I just don't get them.  So the wonderment of the Holiday train exhibit escaped me.  Antoine was a tad bit more interested, but not really.  I feel like it's the kind of exhibit where you either need to like model trains or you need to have some history with the exhibit, like you've been going since you were little, to truly appreciate it.

Now, the model city of Cincinnati (called Cincinnati in Motion) that is to the immediate left when you first come into the Cincinnati wing was really interesting, because you could get an idea of what the city used to look like and what landmarks have survived all these years.  Another portion of the Cincinnati History Museum was the life-size Cincinnati street, complete with riverboat and storefronts. 

 Here's the printing press, which I loved.  This guy showed us the process of setting type and inking the was pretty cool.

 Okay, this I just thought was completely and totally strange.  Someone please tell me why all the statues in the museum are white?!  I'm not talking white like Caucasian white, I'm talking bright ceiling color white.  The Native Americans, the Colonial soldiers, the African Americans, the streetcar conductor...all bright white.  And in some cases, even their clothes were painted white (see above).  I don't get this at all!  Especially in the Cincinnati Goes to War exhibit, don't you want to see what the uniforms and clothing from that time period looked like?  I think this was the thing that got under my skin the most.  It seemed cheap, two dimensional, and uninteresting.  And especially in a museum that is visited by so many children, you're depriving them of that important textural and multicultural experience.  Plus, it's just creepy!

We ended our visit with a trip to the Omnimax to see Rocky Mountain Express, which documents the construction and beauty of the Canadian transcontinental railroad.  I had only ever been to an omnimax once before and it was just when they were becoming popular...and it was a big let down.  This, was kind of cool!  I liked the mix of history and aerial shots of the Canadian Rockies.  I definitely wouldn't mind going and checking out another show in the future.

So, that was our visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center.  No question, the building and it's art deco details are gorgeous.  But our visit and museum experience were a let down.  At the end of the day I didn't feel like I got my $38 worth (two adult tickets + Omnimax tickets + parking).  In the future I think I'm much more inclined to go to one of Cincinnati's other museums*: Cincinnati Art Museum (my personal favorite) or Contemporary Arts Center.  What about you, have you ever been to the Cincinnati Museum Center?  How do you rate it?

*Neither Antoine or I have ever been to the Taft Museum of Art, but it's certainly on our list!


the grumbles said...

I've only been in the Children's Museum section. It's... cool. For a two year old. My parents want to get us a membership for Christmas and said we could either choose the museum center or the zoo and man, I'm really leaning zoo. I just don't know how often (ever) we would go to the children's museum let alone walk around the other areas that seem like the suck. The Field in Chicago is one of my favorites too so I'm pretty sure I would think this is bulllllshit.

wonderousclusterf#@k said...

Yeah, I feel like people hype it up like crazy and it was just a let down. I would say zoo or we're big fans of the aquarium! Either are way more interesting than the parts of the CMC we went to, that's for sure! Has the Jude been to the Festival of Lights? Seems like that would be a blast for the little guy, since it's all twinkly and colorful!

Christian said...

I have a soft spot for it because the museum reminds me a lot of how it looked when I was a kid. But, you're right. It's pretty out of date and needs to find a way to balance the nostalgia with an updated look/exhibit.

I'm really more disappointed that the holiday train exhibit was moved there. I don't think I want to pay to park so I can see it. It's really more of a pop-in/pop-out kind of thing that doesn't warrant having to pay money.

But, hands down, Union Terminal is my favorite building in Cincy, maybe even in the States. It's amazing to think it was almost torn down in the 80's.

Anonymous said...

That is a bummer. It does sound like the Natural History part of the Museum esp. has just been abandoned. The admission price too is insane, that is awful. I'm glad the Union Terminal building was saved but having the museums inside it the way they are and at the prices they're charging is embarrassing and sad.

The exhibit with the giant sloth and the mammoth trapped in the tar pit for one thing, I guess they don't even explain what that is? And how do the exhibits fit together - why is there an ancient tar pit, an (when?) ice cave & a modern day OH/KY limestone cave - what links them or why are those the exhibits? Seems totally random and with no explanations or context they are not educational at all.

The empty cases in the limestone cave are supposed to have live bats, cave fish & I think salamanders in them. There used to be a bat colony that would nest there and fly in and out as they liked. It makes me wonder if all the bats died? There is a terrible fungus killing hibernating bats. In some places 98% of all the bats have died. If all the bats did die from the fungus they should explain about that as it is important information. Plus, it is ridiculous to just have empty cases. Perhaps also it is just that they just did not want to have live animals or devote any money to the Natural History exhibits?


Cincinnati Museum Center said...

It sounds like you had a mixed experience, which really could have been improved with the aid of our map and daily schedule. We like to think that regardless of the day that our visitors enjoy a positive experience, and certainly are able to take advantage of the engaging presenters that are running programs in all three museums, every day. Without that information, it's difficult to know what to do/where to go because we have so much to see. We hope that we'll see you again some time in the future.

SusanM: The sloth and mammoth are in our Ice Age exhibit, and our colony of Big Brown Bats is happy and healthy in our replica limestone cave. There is plenty of information that expands on these two separate exhibit experiences to help put everything in context.