Miles Kington: How to lure the great British public to an exhibition

People never feel they've gone round a place unless they've bought something. This is because sightseeing is now indistinguishable from shopping
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The Independent Online

I have received a heartfelt letter from a reader which I feel should be dealt with at once. Here it is...

Dear Mr Kington,

I have amassed a large collection of sundials which I feel I ought to share with the public. How do I go about becoming an exhibitor? Especially before the busy Easter period starts?

Yours sincerely (there then follows a titled, though illegible, name).

Well, Lord Illegible, there are various options open to you when you try to lure the British public in to see your prized possessions, and it may help you if I enumerate the possible forms your collection could take.

1. The Sundial Museum of Britain.

This is the academic and scholarly road. Label your sundials and put them in a dry, indoors display area where people will automatically whisper. Normally you would go to great lengths to keep the sun out, which in the case of sundials might be a mistake, although most people are quite happy to go round train or bus museums and not see a single vehicle moving.

NB. DO NOT call your museum "The British Sundial Museum". It will then be listed under "B" and nobody will ever find it.

2. Sundial World.

To put the word "World" in the title of your display promises lots of hectic ridesplus lavish catering facilities. As long as there are also a few sundials around, or maybe just one enormous one, down which people can abseil, you will be fine.

3. The Sundial Experience.

Normally, an "Experience" needs to be underground, simulating a trip through Viking Times or Life at the Coal Face or similar, but A Sundial Experience should, I suppose, be outdoors. Unless - ah ha! There was a popular display at Tate Modern which did nothing but simulate the presence of undefined sunshine, was there not? Well, why not create an indoor sundial experience with artificial suns beating down on your priceless sundials? And a sequence of sundials showing the time round the globe? Brilliant!

4. Sundialorama.

If you believe in sundials as an item of history, you may also wish to mount a display showing their importance in the past. For thousands of years this was the only kind of clock they had... How did people in the dark countries of the North ever tell the time? ... Why did the inhabitants of sunny Africa not invent the sundial first? Who made the first wrist sundial? (Was there ever one? I don't know.)

5. The Sundial Visitor Centre.

"Visitor centres" are a way of getting people to learn about something without actually being there. Often on the site of a battle you get a "Visitor Centre" into which you see a video of the battle cheaply reconstructed, glance at a few weapons and uniforms and come out again. You do not look at the battle site at all, which is now unrecognisable, anyway. So there was no point in siting the centre at the battle site in the first place! Which means what you need for a Sundial Visitor Centre is a flashy video showing amazing sundials around the world, a nice café, and ... well, that's it.

6. The Sundial Garden Centre, Tearooms and Gift Shop.

You may have noticed people never really feel they have gone round somewhere unless they have also bought things to bring home. This is because sightseeing in the 20th century gradually became indistinguishable from shopping. The top 10 things people buy are: plants, bottles, books, kits, aprons, tea cloths, videos, packets, gloves and videos. So sell plants twined round a tiny sundial, a history of sundials, a make-your-own sundial kit ...

From Lord Illegible

Dear Mr Kington,

Did I say sundials? How very stupid of me. I meant to say "sand eels". Sorry about that. Perhaps you could advise me accordingly.

Yours sincerely...

Dear Lord Illegible,

It doesn't matter whether it's sundials, sand eels or even sandals - exhibitions all obey the same principle.

Do YOU have problems about exhibiting yourself? Here's what to do. Don't bother me. Write to Nicholas Serota at the Tate

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