Once Upon a Time at the Cinquantenaire Museum was probably the clockpunk exhibit extraordinaire.
For those not familiar with the term, it coins all manners steampunk style before the start of the late Regency, which is the starting era for steampunk.
That geekery aside, it was amazing. This exhibit was almost entirely about pocket watches from 1650-1850. Not just any type of pocket watch mind, no, enameled pocket watches.
They could have made it a dry presentation of beautifully enameled historical pieces, pocket watches in this case, and be done with it. But no. Once again this museum (which is not at all well-known enough!) proves that when it comes to exhibition set-ups, they don’t have to bow down to the greats like the British Museum. There was ample space to admire the pieces, they had built amazing displays depicting all the relevant sections and evolution of these watches through the years.
The exhibition is spread out across five large rooms, divided in twelve thematic sections, creating a really interesting and relaxed flow. It’s been set up to keep your attention. Even though the subject matter is mostly the same, it doesn’t get boring.
Of course, you need to have an interest in history and art to be interested in an exhibit like this, but that’s a given, really.
My sole regret about the setup, awesome as it was, was that it mostly focused on the outside of the watch. Very few pieces were actually open to admire the parts that tell time. There were a few small screens set up where you could swipe and see photos of the insides too, but those were very few considering the amount of watches on display. It would have been so cool if there had been a photo of each watch plate to accompany each watch. But in this case, the outside is definitely more impressive than the inside with most pieces.
But, and this really made Once Upon a Time for me, they had also displayed pieces that helped you really glimpse into the lives of the kind of people who, back in the day, were able to afford these small time-telling masterpieces.
For this they didn’t just put up some paintings and an object here and there, no, they collaborated with artist Isabelle de Borchgrave, who placed twenty magnificent paper reproductions of period garments throughout the exhibit. Not just dresses, but also men’s wear was covered, which, in my opinion, was awesome as men’s fashion of those days was nearly as elaborate as the dresses we know and love from the era.
In short, Once Upon a Time is a dream exhibit for anyone who loves clockpunk, that time in history and/or watches. So if you can, make sure to catch this exhibit before it ends.
And, of course, if you visit Once Upon a Time, you also have a chance to visit the rest of Cinquantenaire Museum, which is well worth a visit on its own. It’s the kind of museum you can visit several times and still discover a whole new section you never knew was there before.