As It Happens

Cheeky contest has museum curators putting their best butts on display

The Yorkshire Museum recently chose “Best Museum Bums” as the theme of one of its curator battles, asking museums across the world to peruse their collections for the best butts, bottoms and behinds on display.

‘Best Museum Bums’ is the theme of Yorkshire Museum’s latest pandemic curator battle 

Detail of a statue in the Louvre museum. (Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Butts are "universal in their interest," says museum curator Jo Killeya.

That's why the Yorkshire Museum chose "Best Museum Bums" as the theme for one of its pandemic-inspired curator battles, asking museums across the world to peruse their collections for the best butts, bottoms and behinds on display.

"Ever since humans first walked the Earth, I think people have been interested in and looking at bottoms," Killeya, head of public engagement and curatorial at the museum in York, England, told As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue.

"Every museum everywhere in the world has got a bottom in some way, shape or form."

Yorkshire Museum started hosting "curator battles" in April as a way of keeping people engaged with art and history, as museums around the world shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. The most popular battle to date had curators digging up their museums' creepiest fare.

"We felt it was really important to keep our social media presence up, to give people an opportunity to see it behind the scenes while we're closed," Killeya said.

"We've really focused our efforts on trying to get those objects out there at a time when people can't access this culture in the way that they normally would do."

So what makes a good museum bum?

"I think it depends on whether you're thinking about a bum as art, or a bum as something useful and practical," Killeya said.

"The curator battle has actually allowed us to look at bums of all shapes and sizes. But some of the very finest bottoms are probably, as you'd imagine, those of the Roman and Greek gods."

The #BestMuseumBum hashtag on Twitter is ripe with sculptures and paintings depicting the bottoms of both historical and imaginary figures, including those of Henry VIII and Michelangelo's David.

Others took liberties with their interpretations. The USS Constitution Museum in Boston shared the butt of a pistol from 1818, which Killeya called "very clever." 

Non-human bums were also on display, with fuzzy bee behinds from the Grant Museum of Zoology, bony dinosaur butts from the University of Michigan Natural History Museum, and what appears to be a diarrhetic buffalo from Aberdeen Uni Museums and Special Collections.

Some butts were even still moving. The Nova Scotia Museum shared a video of its 97-year-old resident tortoise Gus slowly walking away from the camera.

"What the curator battle does so nicely is find those universal themes and those things [that] are in collections around the world that all museums can look at — and their take on what that might be is often completely different, as we've seen in every single battle," Killeya said.

"But it's that wit and satire that really makes the curator battles come to life."

Museums, like many businesses and institutions, are struggling during pandemic closures, Killeya said.

While furlough pay from the government is keeping her colleagues afloat, she says the Yorkshire Museum is losing money daily. It usually gets 70 per cent of its funding from ticket sales, she said. 

"It's really difficult," she said.

But if you want to see Yorkshire's butts — among other things — up close, you won't have to wait long. The museum is set to open on Aug. 1 with physical distancing measures in place.

"We are all champing at the bit," she said. "It's a challenge. We need to do it socially distanced. So we've got some innovative measures in place to make that happen, that we're really excited to get people back into our site and enjoying our arts and collections again."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

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