The Moon review

4 out of 5 stars
The Moon review
The Moon taken by Royal Observatory Greenwich's AMAT telescope © National Maritime Museum, London

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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You might have noticed that it’s 50 years since the moon landings. We do love an anniversary. The Maritime Museum’s wide-ranging yet accessible exhibition forms a gentle reminder of just how remarkable space travel is – and burnishes our sense of wonder at our nearest neighbour.

In dim or cool blue rooms, to the strains of Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’, the exhibition takes us from ancient superstitions about the Moon to the future of human settlements up there (still not looking like very cosy, tbh). On the way, and over 180 objects, it charts the scientific developments that allowed the Moon to be observed, photographed, mapped, and eventually visited. But the show also looks at the Moon’s symbolic importance in early medicine, religion, fine art and pop culture. Here’s Jules Verne and Fritz Lang, Tintin and tinny space-race toys – although I was sad no-one thought to invite The Clangers.

Obviously, the artistic/romantic/spiritual significance of the planet is a ridiculously vast topic – you could probably do a whole show of moonlight paintings alone – but here they have a just a corner. There are pretty, pale watercolours by Turner and Constable, and a trend-bucking hot red-and-green print by Chris Ofili.

The different elements hang together remarkably well, and offer a fluid experience. There’s bags of nerdy detail in the captions, but with a mix of video, fun artefacts (specks of literal Moon rock!), science-y bits and proper massive telescopes, younger visitors should be kept absorbed too.

What’s striking is how far the analytical and the aesthetically pleasing overlap: charts, maps and photographs of the Moon don’t seem dry, they seem beautiful. From a 1540 hand-coloured chart forecasting illness according to the phases of the Moon and highly covetable dials and globes to a huge and a detailed hand-drawn map of the sphere, squiggling and swirling with fine lines, there are some very pretty exhibits here. The latter was made, astonishingly, by an amateur – Hugh Percy Wilkins – in 1951. He’s not the only keen bean: some of the early, often very lovely, astrophotography was also by amateurs.

Things kick up a gear as we leap forward into the twentieth century, and the exhibition looks lightly at the politics and the giddy scientific advances of the Space Race. Striking Soviet propaganda posters sit alongside proud American magazines and an extremely ugly commemorative Wedgwood plate; there are photographs, flight plans and equipment from actual Apollo missions.

The final section asks who owns the Moon, and looks ahead – a little uneasily – at future projects planned by China, India, Japan and Israel as well as the US, and interest from corporations in the Moon as a potential mine of valuable resources. A return to the planet by humans is predicted in the next 15 to 30 years. In the meantime, this exhibition will do nicely.

By: Holly Williams


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