Wednesday, 30 April 2014

If I ruled the world (of museums)

The song may go “If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring” but I have a different plan.

As mentioned in the last blog, we were in Amsterdam last week. The timing of this trip was around the tulips at Keukenhof and the renovated Rijksmuseum.  I have dealt with the first and now for the second:  the renovation stretched over ten years and cost £320 million.  The publicity says that the museum has been re-invented and it certainly has. We spent almost the whole day there and my tolerance is usually only a couple of hours. The collection is as wonderful as ever but the design and display is superbly done – with a super restaurant which offers two croissants as normal for breakfast......

If I ruled the world I could insist that the museum was closed to the public so I could have a private view but that would be a bit eerie and quite mean. I would institute a rule for museums and art galleries that for a two hour slot every day, no group bookings, no guided tours, no cameras (including smart phones) and no audio guides. One could then wander and look without having to elbow through groups standing in front of a painting blocking all views while they listen to a guide (saying everything in three languages) or with a vacant stare listening to the audio guide before skipping the next six paintings which are not covered by the guide.

(My best ever gallery experience was at one of my favourites – The Wallace Collection – I was at a corporate “do” and as soon as the speeches were over and everyone was tucking into the drinks and food, I went up to the collection and had it almost to myself for an hour before the rest came up – bliss. My worst "viewing" experience was the Sistine Chapel.  We booked in advance which was just as well as the queue was five deep and stretched for half a kilometre. Once inside it was so jammed that you stood shoulder to shoulder to look up and hope someone didn't knock you over.)  

I don’t have anything against guided tours (have had some amazing ones), audio guides etc – have used them myself but they are a pain because you keep being blocked by huge groups crowded round a painting. Cameras are a nuisance as there is always someone spending ages close to the picture, trying to line up that perfect photo – look at the painting – you can probably get a photo online or buy a postcard.  You cannot replicate the experience of just looking – not listening to anyone – just looking. Be in the moment.

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