Is this exhibit all that it’s cracked up to be?

I’ve read with some glee the recent stories about Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth, an installation piece at London’s Tate Modern that is a 500-foot crack in the floor. In particular, I am endlessly amused by all the reports of museum visitors who have fallen into it.

There are varying reports of exactly how many people have been injured by Shibboleth, but in a New York Times story today, the reporter writes about witnessing such an event:

Two visitors from the Netherlands, Manon Straatman and her husband, Victor, were equally mystified by the perils of “Shibboleth.”

“Maybe someone walks into the museum and isn’t interested in what’s in the museum,” Mrs. Straatman mused.

Mr. Straatman said the crack was modest in its width and depth, hardly the sort of gaping abyss into which you might plummet to your doom.

“Oh look, there’s someone falling now,” he said suddenly.

Indeed there was: A woman nearby had caught her foot in the crack and pitched awkwardly forward, ending up sprawled on the floor.

In the description of the work, Salcedo talks about examining the legacy of racism and colonialism; a shibboleth, after all, is a custom or way of using language that is used to test a person’s membership of a group, ethnic or otherwise. In a way, Shibboleth seems like a test for museum visitors, kind of like those signs you see on carnival rides—”You must be this smart to enter the exhibit.”

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