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Art Swap: What Happens When Museums Trade Their Collections?

London Museums take to Instagram to virtually swap their catalogues.

10 London museums have paired up on @instagram this week to highlight our shared stories. Our partner is @imperialwarmuseums, whose incredible collection brings people’s experiences of modern war and conflict to life. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap to discover some of the intriguing connections we have found… Find out more about the project at

A photo posted by British Museum (@britishmuseum) on Aug 24, 2015 at 3:02am PDT


Museums are made by the works they hold in their collections. Lines spill out of the Louvre because it houses Mona Lisa and staring at Monet's Water Lilies, apart from the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, could take up a whole afternoon. But ten museums in London are using Instagram to dive into each other’s collections, virtually swapping their fabled works. Using the hashtag #MuseumInstaSwap, the participating museums—British Museum, Design Museum, Horniman Museum, Imperial War Museums, London Transport Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Wellcome Collection—have traded over 100 works and shared them on their Instagram accounts.

This week on @instagram we’ve joined up with other London museums to highlight our shared stories. Our partner is @imperialwarmuseums, whose incredible collection brings people’s experiences of modern war and conflict to life. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap to discover some of the intriguing connections we have found…

A photo posted by British Museum (@britishmuseum) on Aug 26, 2015 at 7:18am PDT

Today for #MuseumInstaSwap we’re focussing on the themes of urban living, identity and population. These @wellcomecollection masks are located in their Medicine Man gallery and resonated with us because they are fundamentally about the complex nature of human beliefs and interactions. And nowhere can such human interaction feel more concentrated than on an overcrowded Tube carriage or bus. Mask can be used for protection, disguise, entertainment and ritual practices and have been made from all sorts of materials through the centuries. We wear another kind of mask when we are forced into close contact with strangers – one that is not physical but behavioural and allows us to disengage from our surroundings. We eschew our usual unique identities and instead melt into invisible anonymity. In this way a city’s commuting practices can be viewed as almost ceremonial, with customs we must obey and dances we must perfect - avoid eye contact, read and scan your phone or tablet. Maintain as much distance as possible. Never look someone in the eye. Do you know what mask you wear when travelling? 10 London museums have paired up on @instagram this week #MuseumInstaSwap, which aims to find and reveal the connections between stories and themes within our collections. Our partner is the wonderful @wellcomecollection #museums #InstaMuseum #masks #identity

A photo posted by London Transport Museum (@ltmuseum) on Aug 26, 2015 at 3:17am PDT


“I came up with the idea after seeing Londonist list their ten best London museums on Instagram,” explains Wellcome Collection web editor, Dornan Russell. “Looking at the list, museums of such a wide range of collections, subjects, and sizes were represented, and I thought we should try some kind of cultural exchange; an exciting way to collaborate and share our content in a new way, especially on a platform as dynamic and engaging as Instagram.”

A complete Underground map with the lines mapped out using a ticket issued at each station. On display @ltmuseum, made by @mike_dipre. We’re fascinated by objects and the meaning we attribute to them, regardless of their function. In our Alice Anderson exhibition, items have been tightly bound with copper wire, preserving their outline but removing their function. Divested of purpose these objects appear suspended in time. We can’t help feeling the same way about these. Once an essential tool or currency for moving about the city, the tickets are now mementoes of the past and tangible objects of memory. A collection of tickets retained by passengers as souvenirs of a journey or experience take on another role after their original function has ceased. They have become objects in their own right. 10 London museums have paired up on @instagram this week to connect over stories and themes. Our partner is the great @ltmuseum. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap to discover some uncanny links between collections across the city. Click the link in our profile to find out more. #museum #instamuseum #tickets #memory #souvenir #memento #object

A photo posted by Wellcome Collection (@wellcomecollection) on Aug 25, 2015 at 7:45am PDT


The British Museum has shared a number of The Imperial War Museum's archive photos from World War II, and the Wellcome Collection has shared a London tube map made out of tickets issued at each station on display at the London Transport Museum, allowing their respective followers to see works that expand beyond the narrow scopes of each participating museum’s missions.

Today in #MuseumInstaSwap we’re beneath the streets of Westminster to discover the hidden secrets of the #WW2 Cabinet War Rooms, which is part of @ImperialWarMuseums. This is the underground bunker that protected the heart of Britain’s government during the Second World War as Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his inner circle plotted the route to Allied victory. It’s an amazing experience to step back in time and walk in the footsteps of Churchill, glimpsing what life would have been like during the tense days and nights of the Second World War. This archive photo shows Churchill at his desk in the Map Room at the Cabinet War Rooms. Beside him, Captain Pym of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) takes a telephone call. To this day, the Map Room has remained exactly as it was left on the day the lights were switched off in 1945. © IWM (HU 44788)

A photo posted by British Museum (@britishmuseum) on Aug 27, 2015 at 5:49am PDT

Arriving at the @DesignMuseum we were mesmerised by the stunning @Plumen lightbulbs and installation that fills the stairwell. The study of light has fascinated scientists, artists and inventors for centuries and we have several early Edison and Swan lightbulbs in the collection. Together with nine other #museums in #London, we’re celebrating each other's collections on Instagram all this week. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap this week to see more stories and connections as we show you the @designmuseum through our eyes. #Light #lightbulb #lines #architecture

A photo posted by Science Museum (@sciencemuseum) on Aug 24, 2015 at 8:42am PDT


Russell says the aim of the project is to let the public experience the collections in a new way, and to highlight that the museums are more involved with each other than some people might think. “It is also a way for us to look at our themes and subject areas in a way we may not have done before," he tells The Creators Project. “Visiting a museum that at first seems quite unrelated, but then finding fascinating links and dynamic and unexpected ways to explore common themes has been amazing. For example, looking at a map of London in one museum and ‘seeing’ a brain; or looking at the circulatory system in an educational model and ‘seeing’ the London Underground map. We hoped our audiences would find it interesting too.”

We encourage to look at the ceiling when visiting an art institution … but also to look down when the floor is equally beautiful @natural_history_museum #MuseumInstaSwap Did you know that some of the mosaic floors at the V&A were made by 'lady convicts' in Woking Prison? Museum staff jokingly gave the mosaic a Latin name, 'opus criminale'.

A photo posted by Victoria and Albert Museum (@vamuseum) on Aug 27, 2015 at 3:26am PDT

Russell says that he wants other museums and Instagram users to get inspired by the project and share images from the museum's collections using the hashtag. “Hopefully inspired by our project, they’ll respond to the question, ‘If you started a museum, which of our objects would take pride of place?”


Our first #MuseumInstaSwap from @hornimanmuseumgardens is their fab totem pole. Much of our North American material relates to the search for the #northwestpassage but this beauty was London's first Alaskan totem pole, carved in 1985.

A photo posted by Royal Museums Greenwich (@royalmuseumsgreenwich) on Aug 24, 2015 at 5:41am PDT

Click here to see more of the ongoing #MuseumInstaSwap.


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