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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old July 28th, 2005, 23:19 Thread Starter
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Museums - dead or alive?

Not sure whether this fits in here, but...as usual I digged deep in museums during July and I found each visit shocking. In some places, like at Fondation Bemberg in Toulouse (one of the best places to study the work of Pierre Bonnard, for example) I felt like an intruder in a visitor-free-area, while the Dalí museum in Figueres was overrun by German, Dutch and Danish families with children constantly complaining "Mum, this is boring"...

It was impossible to focus on a painting there.

But why? Is it the fault of guide books, the museums themselves? What could be done to spread visitors over more museums, not only the so-called "must sees"?

What do you prefer? Being virtually on your own or enjoying the mass appeal of certain institutions?

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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old July 29th, 2005, 02:05
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First and foremost, one has to bear in mind that any art institution anywhere is relying heavily on public support. But the vast public, i.e. those who commute daily and earn their keeps by the sweat of their brows, cannot really afford to support the demands of the museums. In order to operate a public art gallery, the institution needs much more than membership dues and admission fees. It needs the pledge of corporate [vis a vis steady monetary endowment] and governmental [vis a vis political connections and legal] support. To cut a long story short, a museum is, yes, just like an office--a huge and glamourous one at that.

In our trade, the curators empty their file cabinets, cover the Turners, Koonses and Fabres, lock away their data CDs and go to nude beaches in Greece or Southampton, New York in July and August. The museum boards take over and put on their favourite "blockbusters shows." Going to a museum in July requires patience and tacts. One can still see the beauty if you don't let yourself tripped up by the usual Monets, Matisses, Renoirs. [Hint: make an appointment with the research librarian at any major art museums and she/he will bring out your favourite artist's work--in a cool, quiet room away from the tourists.]

The summer months are also ideal for reuniting with old favourites. Try visiting the museum very early, very late (in some cities especially in Europe, art museums stays open all evening), on a weekday and go directly to the room that houses your favourite paintings. Chances are you may be there alone! Take a seat, look at the art.

In many aspects, art museums have drifted very far away from the populace. It is a sad fact. [Last week, while working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (I'm an independent art curator and historian), I saw tour guides hurrying their fares into and out of the cafes, ignoring everything on the walls, ignoring also another visitor--a world famous one, in fact; yes, I wtinessed one guide pushing him aside--the painter Jasper Johns.]

Money talks, yes, but art comforts, no?

And one should never forget these words: ars longa vita brevis est.

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Last edited by Punkette B; July 29th, 2005 at 14:59.
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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old July 29th, 2005, 07:47 Thread Starter
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Some nice hints, Bonita...

It's obvious that PR is not the strongpoint of most European museums, but this summer it was so shockingly clear (obviously I'm quite naive) that tourists visit names, not collections. I also understood why Tate went to St. Ives...go near a beach and redirect the sun burned masses to your museum. Still, it's frustrating...I fear for many museums here.

However, I had different experiences in North America, where each institution I've visited was quite lively.

<eh no...after two hours I finally want to see your Corot...>

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post #4 of 18 (permalink) Old July 29th, 2005, 11:09
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It would seem to affect the smaller museums, dedicated to one collection in particular, more than it does the larger ones, which have a broader range of art at display. Although the larger ones are prone to attract visitors not really interested in art, and who view their visit there as a family outing or a 'must' while on vacation in a particular city. I've seen huge crowds in the Vatican museum, who hurried past the all the magnificent treasures and fine works of art, seemingly without any interest, just so that they could see the creation of Adam in the Cappella Sistina and be on their way again. While on the other hand I've been at The Shaw Birthplace (George Bernard, that is ) in Dublin, where I was the first and only vistor in several days, yet could take all the time I wanted to look at things and I had a marvellous conversation with the curator about everything there.

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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old July 29th, 2005, 12:52 Thread Starter
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Good points. Maybe it's also because Europeans take art as something natural that doesn't need more attention. Sometimes I wonder if the image of the so-called "culturally aware" European is nothing than a bad fake. I dare to say that the average European is not a bit more culturally interested and educated than the average Yank.

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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old July 29th, 2005, 14:04
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I've had similar experiences as Viola recounts at some of the "big" museums in Europe during the summer, & for similar reasons I don't even bother going to the Met or the MOMA here during the summer months.

But last week we went to the Alte & Neue Pinakotheks in München and enjoyed a great visit, the galleries were well-attended yet the patrons respectful & at least seemingly focused. There was some typical crowding around the Van Goghs & Monets, but for the the most part I was totally impressed with the atmosphere. At one point though an Asian tourist set off the alarms after photographing a Klimt painting with flash, but that was only a minor annoyance

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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old July 29th, 2005, 15:00
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Well if the marketeers come up with stuff like this you won't hear me complain .

Seriously I'm not too fond of all these stunts to get people into museums. If it is restricted to a couple of occasion* it could lead to people who otherwise wouldn't visit, to take the first step, but in general you get shiploads of people who don't want to be there for any other reason than to have participated to the 'stunt'. It's just annoying. A museum is not an amusement park, and it should not become one. The quality of the exhibition is not measured by the quantity of visitors.

If in general 'the state' provides for artistically good exibitions and tickets affordable to all (free for those with low incomes) they have done all they should. If that means 1000's and 1000's of people who just come to enjoy the art, great. If it means 1 visitor a day great as well.


* In Antwerp you have what is called the night of the museums, which means 1 night a year all museums are open all night long. Outside in the dark, cosy fires are lit and inside small classical orchestras play. It always attracks shiploads of people. It looks like the entire city (and towns around it) is visiting. And since the most interesting museums lie in district with a lot of cool bars, it always results in a cosy night night out

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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old July 29th, 2005, 17:15
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Museums are free every Wednesday here in SF. That said I wouldn't want to go to very many of them more than once a year (the Legion of Honor excepted, since you can have it to yourself most days). The MOMA seems to have been built, not for looking at art, so much as for having parties for the Gettys and friends after hours, as well as to sell 'yuppie porn' in the shop. I cannot say what the new DeYoung museum will be like, since it is not open, but it'll probably much the same only slightly less ugly, architecturally.

That said, one still doesn't have to deal with people yelling at each other, over the sound their taped tours, "Did we see the Leonardo?!!?" "Dammit did we miss the Leonardo?!!?" "I'm sure if we've walked all around this damn floor, there's a damn Leonardo somewhere!!!" "What the hell did I stand in line for two hours for, if I can't see a DaVinci?!!?" "Honey, I think we MISSED the Leonardo!!!!"*
so that's something going for us right there.

*They did indeed miss the Leonardo, because it is not the Mona Lisa and they were standing in front of a Michelangelo.

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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old July 30th, 2005, 08:48 Thread Starter
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Similar actions are taken here in Vienna...we also have a long night of museums, nude models posing and so on and I'm not too fond of this.
I would prefer if the museums present special aspects (painters, styles) in the media, educate the people by advertisement so to say, because better informed persons will come to the museum.
I used to think the entrance fee matters also, but seeing cheap museums basically deserted and the expensive KHM in Vienna packed changed my opinion.

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post #10 of 18 (permalink) Old August 30th, 2005, 00:01
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The Auckland Museum is a grand old place...full of interactive things for the kids, and some really interesting exhibits. Theres walk through street designed in the style of pioneer NZ, reminiscent of Auckland in the 1860s, brilliant Boer War / WWI / WWII / Korea / Vietnam exhibit with trenches, gun emplacements, a spitfire and all sorts of other things. I love it
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post #11 of 18 (permalink) Old September 18th, 2005, 09:27
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**** them I'll say!! while riding my 1930's Indian bike directly to the wall...


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post #12 of 18 (permalink) Old September 18th, 2005, 12:32
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**** them I'll say!! while riding my 1930's Indian bike directly to the wall...


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post #13 of 18 (permalink) Old November 20th, 2005, 02:04
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Tate Modern!!

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post #14 of 18 (permalink) Old November 20th, 2005, 02:04
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smoke a joint and visit, stoners paradise

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post #15 of 18 (permalink) Old November 20th, 2005, 02:04
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any one remember the weather project? amazing it was!

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post #16 of 18 (permalink) Old November 20th, 2005, 21:04
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I also think museums can rest on their laurels and not interest people in coming in. Over the last couple of years in London we have had some really good exhibitions in many of the museums. The Royal Academy of Arts hosted a superb exhibition called "The Turks" which united artifacts from musuems from all over the world relating to Turkey from 600AD-1900-ish. It was beautifully done and the crowds showed how much interest their was which massives queues that lasted from the moment it opened until it closed several months later. They also made it interestingly for children and I never heard any complain of boredom as the RAA had a special audio/visual tour for them which was informative and engaged them with the exhibits. We took my neice with us and she adored it particularly liking the room with all the Ottoman illustrations.

The Science Museum also shows the way with engaging children with museums, it has a basement dedicated to children from toddlers upwards with interactive pieces on water, sound and electricity. The museum has also hired play attendants and has aprons etc available for children to wear My neice often goes and it is a great day out for her.

And as cat mentioned, the Tate Modern has opened and gives another option for those who may not want to go to a more "traditional" art museum and gaze as Botticellis and Monets and has also proven a great success.

So what I get from these examples is that museums have to make themselves desirable places to visit by putting on good exhibitions, make themselves accessible for children and cater for all crowds.

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post #17 of 18 (permalink) Old November 21st, 2005, 21:00
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When the new DeYoung Museum opened here last month (as the old one was too damaged in the earthquake of 1989 to get any big traveling exibitions--the lifesblood of any musea in a town like SF), the very first parts to open to the public were the restaurant and the gift shop. Both opened well before nary any art was seen. Also, both are apparently easily accessable without the hassle and bother of having to, you know, look at any art other than those fabulous apple-cider miso glazed chicken wings and Mondrianesque tie-tacks!

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post #18 of 18 (permalink) Old August 9th, 2006, 18:15
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I personally love visiting museums in the city, esp. as often as I can.
I like to go every now and then to take photographs of the artworks and such, as well as the very few people looking at them. It's esp. great to see parents bringing their curious little children.
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