It is very rare to visit an exhibition with just enough content.
The Downton Abbey exhibition at Winterthur presents the fine line between education and enjoyment.
When you enter the exhibition there is the video clip from the first episode where the staff of Downton are tidying up the house in preparation for the return of the Lord and Lady. (As much as I love the theme, and it is great in this context, I must admit that the music is starting to cause nausea. It’s like a beloved old friend, who continually tells the same childhood story.) The video is placed off to the side and although there is audio, it only serves as background, although it beautifully recreates that moment. In front of you as you are two servants’ costumes. Behind are the bells that summons the staff to the house’s rooms. If you stand to the side of the costumes, you can look back and compare the video with the costumes. It is beautifully subtle.
As you walk through the exhibition, there are other counterplays of images and costumes. There is a large photo of the family and staff outside the house. In front of it are costumes. The costumes are not simply the main players, and you have to explore the photo to actually identify the costume owners.
This mix of images with costumes (virtual vs real) is what makes this exhibition enjoyable.
When documentation is presented, it is concise and manageable. You are told just enough to provide a historical context for costumes.
The Downton Abbey show at Winterthur demonstrates that an exhibition can be both relaxing and educational without being an assault on either the senses or the intellect.