The Confession: ethnographic museums tend to drive me to the brink of suicide. A journey into the slough of despond, they bring to mind cobwebbed chambers crowded with peasant rugs and burlap dresses. Booooring. The thing is, for the past few years or so Warsaw’s own ethnographic effort has undergone a silent revolution to give it extra zing. The changes have been significant, so much so that it’s now easily the most undervalued museum you’ll find in the city. Still boring? Definitely not.
However, it’s not just the core exhibition that has shaken the sheets. Playing a key role in the museum’s remarkable rejuvenation have been a series of temporary exhibitions that have captivated the public. Running until August 31st, Hungarian Love is one such project. It’s true, the PR notes don’t promise all that much, declaring it little more than “an exhibition devoted to Hungarian traditions and customs that concern love, marriage and eroticism…” It’s a modest description that does little to suggest the weirdness that awaits…
Starting first with the ‘olden days’, the opening exhibits feature the expected headdresses, staves and spinning wheels. Quickly though, the pace picks up with sections relating to Valentine’s Day, ‘dating today’ and the state approved Four Seasons Dating Agency. Next, the institution of marriage finds itself divided into sub-sections that examine topics such as the wedding banquet, honeymoon, adultery and divorce. Though well-captioned in Polish and English, it’s the sheer eccentricity of the displayed items that keeps the attention span on full alert: from hen night singlets to Barbon aftershave, from old concert tickets to wedding videos, the individual exhibits are highly quirky and intensely personal. You feel, almost, as if you’re rummaging through someone’s private box of memories.
Then comes the twist: passed a sign that announces it open only to those aged 18+, visitors find themselves deposited inside a David Lynch-style maze of red-string curtains, noir walls and parquet floors. Welcome to the erotic exhibition. Utterly bizarre, the content includes phallic jugs, smutty magazines, spicy underwear and other such props – yet despite the theme, never does it cross the boundary and feel sleazy or sordid. Entertaining but educational, Hungarian Love ranks as one of the most compelling exhibitions of Warsaw’s cultural year: miss it at your peril.
Ongoing until August 31
The State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw
ul. Kredytowa 1, ethnomuseum.pl