Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dreamscape, with formaldehyde

For years I have had a recurring dream that takes place in an old museum of natural history. Not one of the new and shiny temples to technology, but a musty building with wooden starircases, peeling paint, and open windows. As it turns out, this place exists in Shanghai. The Natural History Gallery on 260 Yan’an East Road houses a well-seasoned collection of the taxidermist’s art in the former Cotton Exchange building, built in 1923. If you go, be prepared to share the dinosaur bones, neolithic dioramas, and jars of snakes in preservative with groups of shuddering schoolgirls. Don’t miss the stuffed whale shark suspended in front of aqua blue curtains, or, nearly hidden in a second-floor gallery: two deadpan mummies, chastely draped.