ABBA THE MUSEUM in Stockholm: museum or memory site?

ABBA THE MUSEUM is part of a major project called Pop House, set up with the aim of celebrating live music, which comprises three facilities, a hotel, a restaurant and the Abba museum. After a period of resistance, Abba’s members ended up agreeing with the idea of the museum, but on the condition that it would proceed to focus on Abba not in isolation but rather positioned within the larger context of Swedish music. As such, the museum comprises not only a gallery for the permanent exhibition on Abba, but also two rooms for temporary exhibitions on topics from the broader Swedish popular musical scene.

Curated by the responsible for Abba’s wardrobe during their international touring in their heyday, who is director of the museum, the prime aim of the narrative is to tell the story of Abba – despite some zooming in on other thematic subjects – in a conventional chronological mode. The stance in which the story is told is personal and detailed without ever overstepping the bounds of privacy. In terms of exhibits, the museum displays not only items of material culture such as the band’s stage clothes, wax figures of the members, the helicopter from the classic LP cover, full-size replicas of the band’s studio, their dressing room, the cabin on the island of Viggso, gold records and trophies, but also those of non-material culture such as Abba’s songs (exhibited through the audio guide devices, through public loudspeakers and through interactive listening stations), concert footage and recordings of interviews with the members of the band.

I find the museum really lacks the guiding hand of a museum professional. My first understanding was that reflection seems to be largely eschewed in favour of almost exclusively allowing visitors to engage with the story’s details, the replicas and memorabilia surrounding Abba. At the same time, the environment of the exhibition also appears to lack professional guidance. Of course the appreciation of space is a very personal one, but it seems to me that the nature of the graphic design, arrangements, materials, design, colours and showcases can easily deprive the exhibition of the cultural capital normally attributed to museum exhibitions, with the result that the exhibition ends up being closer to a memorial site dedicated mostly to eliciting nostalgia and remembrance. The very fact that the museum goes hand in hand with Pop House’s hotel, the lift of which leads directly to the museum entrance, also facilitates this interpretation. The lack of professional guidance is also shown in some details; for instance, some of the texts on the panels are dramatically long by contemporary museum standards, while the size of the letters is too small.

On the other hand, the museum does show a new leap forward as regards the interaction, by means of the provision of several appealing opportunities for visitors to sing, dance and dress like Abba. In providing the devices that make these opportunities possible, the museum is giving the visitor an important role in the visit and highlighting the value of the experience. There is also a remarkable acknowledgment of the role and significance of social media in people’s lives today in that, when buying a ticket, the visitor gets an ID that generates a page on the museum’s website. After using the above-mentioned interactive devices, visitors can upload their recorded performances by scanning their ticket, and then the experience can be shared via social media.

All that being said, I believe ABBA THE MUSEUM is very much a memorial site that offers historical information, enables nostalgia and allows the community of fans to come together in a fun celebration. If it is considered as a museum exhibition, however, it seems to be missing, on the one hand, an effort towards offering a clear understanding of the dynamics underlying the Abba phenomenon and their impact on society and, on the other hand, professional guidance as regards the display techniques.

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