Sunday, 5 October 2008

Please don't sneeze on our Van Gogh

Pretty much everytime I've been in a museum, at least one person does something so atrociously offensive that it sends me into a panic or, even worse, fits of laughter.  Some of the greatest faux pas include:

  • Family of four taking their Christmas card photos in a gallery of the Musee d'Orsay (Paris).  This in and of itself may not have been hugely offensive, but it involved posing the children ON A MARBLE SCULPTURE and allowing them to crawl all over it.  The mother actually POURED WATER ON THE SCULPTURE (presumably to clean it?!!)!  
  • Men snacking just inches away from Velazquez's Las Meninas, in the Prado Museum (Madrid).  True story.  It was, admittedly, 1994, and I think these things were allowed at the time, but in retrospect, it was pretty horrifying.
  • I didn't actually witness this, but in 2006, somebody tripped at the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge, UK) and broke a pair of really expensive Chinese Qing Dynasty vases.  Ooops.  (Read more about it here.)
  • 2006 was apparently a bad year for museums, when a boy put gum on a painting at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  

Needless to say, people aren't always on their best behaviour in museums.  But the truth is, even if you manage not to break or ruin a piece of priceless art, there are still lots of things you can do that can make a trip to a museum miserable.  I've compiled a short list of "do's" and "don'ts" over the past few years.  Here are some of my top tips.

  • Don't decide to break in your brand new Manolos the day you decide to go to the Met.  You won't be happy. 
  • On a similar note, it's almost a rule of museums that whatever the temperature is outside, it will either be a good 15-20 degrees warmer or colder inside the museum.  My parents have recounted almost losing their fingers to frostbite inside the Scuolo di San Rocco (Venice), and I recently persevered through an incredibly overheated and overcrowded Michaelangelo exhibit at the British Museum.  Wear layers.  
  • If you don't want to have your purse ripped away from you by a security guard with no sense of humor, don't take a huge bag, especially a backpack.  The rules vary from museum to museum, but it's a good idea to "pack light" if you don't want to have to check your purse.
  • Sit down wherever possible.  "Museum legs" are the worst thing in the world, and somehow it's more exhausting to stand for two hours than it is to walk for two hours.  If there's a bench, use it.  
  • Don't travel with the pack.  It's hard to imagine that everyone you are with will want to spend the exact same amount of time with the exact same exhibits as you will.  Instead of trying to navigate the museum en masse, it's a better idea to agree to meet up in the entrance at a certain time.  That way, if you're loving Chuck Close, but Grand Aunt Myrtle thinks modern art is a waste of time and wants to spend all day with Caravaggio, you won't have to mudwrestle over who gets to call the shots.
  • Don't go hungry.  My husband jokes that he should always carry a granola bar with him when we travel, because I'm a bitch when I get hungry.  Don't decide to squeeze in a trip to the National Gallery right before a late lunch.  Eat before, or have a snack midway through your trip at the (overpriced) museum cafe.  
I think there's almost nothing worse than paying $10 to visit a museum, and then finding yourself miserable the whole time you are there.  Plan ahead.  You'll be glad you did.


Andrew said...

As I said on Milk and Cookies, a very good food blog, you are welcome to visit sunny east London anytime, especially on a Saturday if you like Vietnamese coffee and people watching.

Anyway, if you and Mr Museum-Pass feel like it let me know, you now have access to my email address.

Susan said...

Hi Beck,
I am loving your blog and hope you keep it up. Just have one comment -- in my memory, the folks in front of Las Meninas were not snacking, but rather smoking, only inches away from the canvas! Could that be true? And Mark saw a child smack a Picasso painting at the MOMA in Brooklyn!