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#CuratorBattle: Twitter tussle reveals museums' prettiest, creepiest and sassiest objects

UK's Yorkshire Museum has been encouraging international institutions to share the most unusual items in their collections

Victorian handmade models of figures playing cards made from crab’s legs and claws Courtesy of York Castle Museum

Artistic institutions across the globe have been drawn into battle on Twitter, sharing the most unusual items in their collections under the hashtag #CuratorBattle. Launched by Yorkshire Museum in the UK's historic city of York as lockdown came into effect, the campaign has so far challenged curators to root through their archives to find the “dullest”, “prettiest”, “deadliest”, “creepiest” and “sassiest” objects—with the “best egg” category added for Easter.

What began as a novel way for Yorkshire Museum to engage audiences online has quickly garnered international attention. International museums including the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersberg, the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston have joined in on Twitter. The competition was catapulted into the mainstream when the “creepiest object” brief made it onto CNN and BBC’s primetime show Have I Got News For You. The initial Twitter post has now been seen by 2.5 million people and has more than 1 million engagements.

Yorkshire Museum’s curatorial team set the creepy bar high with a bedraggled 3rd or 4th-century hair bun from the burial of a Roman lady with jet pins still firmly in place. Organisations such as the Prince Edward Island Museum in Canada and the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory in Australia responded with a cursed child’s toy that apparently moves of its own accord and a bat in flight stored inside a bottle. According to Lee Clark, the Communications and Evaluation Manager at York Museums Trust, the entry still giving everyone nightmares is the “mermaid” submitted by National Museums Scotland with a pastel pink face, giant eyes and crumbling teeth.

Clark says: “I think generally audiences at the moment are looking online for a culture hit, but also for any interesting and entertaining stories which offer a little light relief from these really challenging times we are in. #CuratorBattle has invited museums to approach their own collections with a fresh perspective, and in doing so has broken down some of those perceptions people have about museums being stuffy or inaccessible.” 

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