About ten days ago, I was suggesting that the new-fangled modern exhibitions cannot match the sites themselves. To some extent, I still believe that, but yesterday I saw an exhibition that complicated my earlier thoughts.
This is the Yeats exhibition at the National Library of Ireland. You can visit an online version of the show here, and it is worth doing, whether you can get to the actual show or not.
The exhibition features an array of W. B. Yeats's printed books, manuscripts, typescripts, and photographs. When you enter, there is a small room made of screens, where an audio track plays recordings of his poems, read by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Sinead O'Connor while slides of the text and accompanying images grace the screens. There are four films about Yeats's life and work, featuring images of Ireland, his notebooks, and commentary from notable scholars. There are well-presented cases of copies of his books, manuscripts of his poems and letters, pages from his occult notebooks, photographs of his family. There is a giant-sized replica of The Tower, perhaps his most important book, that you can walk inside of. In there you find a sort of family tree for the poems, tracing them from manuscript to periodical publication to other books where they were published and finally to The Tower--and of course all these stages are represented by reproductions of the artifacts in question.
It really is a marvel, an example of how multi-modal presentation can be put to excellent use.
And although it has been up for a couple of years, it got an ebullient mention in this weekend's NYTimes.
So I revise what I said before. Done well, these exhibitions do not take away from "the things themselves," but give you a new excitement about what you are seeing.