August 31, 2018

"The 'Mona Lisa' moment is a sense of despair at the impossibly crowded... room devoted to the Mona Lisa... a scene of pure chaos..."

"... as tour groups jostle and throng and sometimes shove one another in hopes of getting close enough to snap a cellphone picture of the world’s most famous painting.... The Mona Lisa moment can be had in the galleries of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which has become so crowded that serious art lovers now avoid it...  The problem isn’t just crowds, or noise or distraction; it is the annihilation of one of the essential components for viewing art, which is extended individual contemplation... In the late 19th- and throughout much of the 20th century, museums stood as temples of art, delivering lessons about the 'civilizing' value of culture. In the middle of the last century, new generations of museum leadership began to stress more populist ideas of openness and equality in the gallery experience. That second age of American museums — the Age of Access — has bred the seeds of its own destruction, generating a cultural experience that attracts enormous crowds, but without giving them any substantial engagement with the materiality or cultural complexity of the art itself.... Are contemporary art museums, in fact, providing something of value to the public?"

From "This new museum doesn’t want Instagram or crowds. Does that make it elitist?" by Philip Kennicott, the art and architecture critic at WaPo. Kennicott isn't suggesting excluding the riffraff to make way for the thoughtful, nuanced people. That would be plainly elitist. His answer, befitting an architecture critic, is architecture — things like narrowing hallways to choke the flow of crowds.

This subject connects to something we were talking about 2 days ago, "‘Overtourism’ Worries Europe. How Much Did Technology Help Get Us There?" by Farhad Majoo (NYT).

The Farhad Majoo article clearly fit with my longterm interest in the problems of travel. I almost want to say the impossibility of travel. Museums are a subcategory of travel, since travelers often see the museums of the places they travel to, and in my personal experience, museums are at the top of what I've wanted to do when traveling. I see that Kennicott called museums "impossibly crowded," and maybe that was just hyperbole, but I think he's seeing what I'm seeing. The presence of other people changes the environment from the place you want to see, so the place you want to go no longer exists. Traveling there is literally impossible.

Is that elitist? I'd say, no. It's just aesthetically sensitive and aware. It's only elitist if you think your sensibilities justify excluding the people who don't mind the problems as they continue to crowd the places that you'd go to if they were virtually empty. If you cede these places to the other people, you're the opposite of an elitist. You're a populist.

And that reminds me of how I felt when Donald Trump won the election.

ADDED: When I went to Paris in the 90s, I didn't bring a camera. I had a sketchbook, and the comments to this post — exploring the idea of seeing the parts of the museum where the crowds don't  — made me remember this page:

P1180394

AND: Here's something I wrote in my Paris notebook that's quite relevant to this post. Transcribed verbatim: "I spent so much time today at the museum — walking all over the Louvre — there is so much here that you get numb, you don't care. If you had to travel from church to church to see each piece, it would mean much more. But as it is, you get to the point where you traipse along, casting your eyes about to see if anything really grabs you (oh, yeah, they're about to deliver a second axe chop to the neck of a saint who's not dead yet! That's cool — heh, heh. I saw some kids pointing this out — & aren't they on the same wave-length perhaps as the artist — in his time). One américain says, 'Let's skip this shit' & I don't think 'What a crass/ignorant little man!' I think 'I know exactly how you feel.' But much is good. I don't mean to slight it. It's just that one really doesn't prefer culture in one humongous globule! And yet in our modern world, great art has been globbed up in large Louvrish hunks, so this is the only way you can see it. For a normal look, you must look at the art of your own time, as the medievals viewed crosses and chalices in their own churches, localized and, not unimportantly, imbued with meaning: the beliefs that they shared with the art & artists themselves."

128 comments:

Henry said...

If you don't like crowds, study prints.

Galleries of works on paper are not only sparsely populated and situated off the main flow, but also have low lighting to protect the paper and are generally calm environments.

Ann Althouse said...

"If you don't like crowds, study prints."

If only the people who think looking at a print is an adequate substitute would stay out of museums, the people who think otherwise could have the experience those people make impossible.

The Crack Emcee said...

I don't know if I've traveled enough or just don't feel the need, but I'm just as fascinated by where I am, now, as I'd be anywhere else. Maybe it's the foster care background, of never being grounded, but this ground is as good as any - and doesn't require I study for it or get any shots.

Ann Althouse said...

Oh, wait. I see you mean don't go to see the paintings, go to the parts of the museums that have lithographs and woodcuts and so on?!

joshbraid said...

Reminds me of standing at Mammoth Hot Springs last June, contemplating the amazing colors and structures, and enduring vast crowds of tourists who were not looking at all but rather getting their selfies. So strange to be in the midst of such beauty and watching people ignore it all and totally glued to their phones. Such poverty.

Ann Althouse said...

But those are the things that are least necessary to see in person, and because they are virtually always covered in glass, they're often more diminished visually than a reproduction in a book.

Ann Althouse said...

My comments are making me think of "Time Enough At Last" (Twilight Zone episode).

MayBee said...

The Mona Lisa moment isn't because the room is so crowded.....it isn't *that* crowded. It's because the painting is so small and unremarkable. A Van Gough is breath-taking even in a crowd. The Mona Lisa-- you suddenly can't understand how it became The painting to see.

MayBee said...

There's something I love about his idea about making the hallways smaller, to make crowds even more uncomfortable. You could, of course, make them even wider. Give people the space to feel like they aren't waiting in queue after queue. Make the hallways themselves interesting, so people take their time. And you know, enjoy the experience. Why try to punish people who simply want to experience art?

gilbar said...

i find it interesting that what modern people do with something like the mona lisa is:
Pay money to get in
wait in line for a long time
stand in a crowded (very crowded!) room
take a cellphone picture of the picture
turn around and leave

no one LOOKS at the picture (or waterfall, or mountain top), they take a picture of it.
THEN, when they get home, they say to their friends: Here's a picture i took of that picture.

The Good News, is that they leave the rest of the world alone for us that want to contemplate it.

gilbar said...

if prints of painting are bad, cellphone pix are a Zillion times worse

Tank said...

Tank's experience of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre was that, even thought there were only a few people in the room (we got lucky?), it was still too far away (probably for security) and too small to really see and appreciate. For contrast, go to Museum de Orsay and stand right next to original and wonderful impressionist paintings.

Tank agrees that there are often too many people in museums (especially for special exhibits) and at famous travel locations. Tank does not have an answer to this problem.

The presence of hundreds of people milling around, children crying, people talking, etc., does make quiet contemplation of art impossible.

Trumpit said...

A better analogy to describe what happened when Schlump was erected: Crowds of Hoosiers and rednecks defaced the Mona Lisa with red paint because they said that Mona Lisa was an"ugly" spinster, and wanted a playboy model with big boobs in her place. Instead, they saddled the country with a big boob for all to see. Vulgarity won the day by erecting such an uncultured, uncouth monstrosity. In that respect, a lowlife Hermann Göring mentality and populism reigns till this day in Washington instead of Berlin.

tim maguire said...

Smaller museums may have less famous art, but the thing about art is, there is a lot of obscure art that is as good as any of the famous stuff. Plus, the off-beat museums occasionally give real surprises. You'll never be surprised at the Met or the Louvre.

Larry J said...

So, the elitists (they keep using that word but it doesn't mean what they think it means) want fewer people going to places like museums. I bet they still want taxpayers to subsidize their entertainment through NEA grants and other payments.

tim in vermont said...

I was getting concerned that Trumpit had lost his mojo.

M Jordan said...

I am a deeply populist person with a sharp elitist streak. I love Trump voters but understand what Peter Styrock was saying when he said he could smell the Trump support at a Wal-Mart.

It’s not cognitive dissonance nor is it hypocrisy. We’re all wired this way at some level. We are individuals who are part of communities. There’s a tension there. Kurt Vonnegut touched on this in “Cat’s Cradle.”

ALP said...

Henry beat me to it. Galleries tend to be much quieter and offer all kinds of media. At the other end of the visual stimulation scale, a nice big antique gallery can offer much to look at - usually not too populated.

tim in vermont said...

I agree about the Musée d'Orsay. But Western culture seems like watching small boys play soccer. They just swarm the ball wherever it randomly bounces. Restricting yourself to the famous paintings is like trying to understand a hockey game by focusing on the puck.

Ralph L said...

narrowing hallways to choke the flow of crowds.

That's the dumbest idea ever, besides firing a gun into the ceiling and starting a stampede. A few border collies would move things along.

They make the labels so small and low, if there's anyone between you and it, you can't read it.

Henry said...

Oh, wait. I see you mean don't go to see the paintings, go to the parts of the museums that have lithographs and woodcuts and so on?!

Yes!

But those are the things that are least necessary to see in person, and because they are virtually always covered in glass, they're often more diminished visually than a reproduction in a book.

There is some truth to that. And the scale of the reproduction is often close to the scale of the actual work.

However, the best show I've been to in a long time was a Hokusai exhibit at Boston's MFA. The non-reflective glass is very high quality.

Crazy Jane said...

The selfie thing never fails to amuse. Anytime you get a chance to see one of Jeff Koons' balloon dogs, go and watch people make pictures of it and themselves with it. It's like a great big joke being played on them and "investors" who have paid $50 million or more for each copy. See -- I was there!

Another thing that the big museums do every once in a while is let on how much art they DON'T display. In one case, the Met Breuer (its new modern building) mounted a credible retrospective of Anselm Kiefer's work, drawn entirely from its own collection. Virtually all of the art stays in the vault, year in and year out, available only to "serious" art researchers.

Kiefer's a serious guy himself. I doubt he appreciates that what he has to say is never heard.

stlcdr said...

Go and see the worlds biggest ball of twine.

tcrosse said...

Art Buchwald on the Six-Minute Louvre

stlcdr said...

Is art popular because it’s good or is it good because it’s popular?

As tim maguire said, go to smaller, lesser know, galleries. Of course a lot of that is overpriced, if you are thinking of buying it, but you can find some real gems. Especially art that you like because of its aesthetic appeal, rather than because you are supposed to like it.

EDH said...

Some would view this as simply an allocation problem of economics, akin to the tragedy of the commons, where at the existing “price” demand vastly exceeds supply thereby depleting the availability if not the sustainability of the resource for all.

Here the value of art observation is proximity and time to the painting.

Economist would say charging people based on their proximity and time with the painting using a market clearing price would solve the problem of allocation.

rehajm said...

Frick times your entry so it's less crowded. You can still have a rewarding experience.

I get early entry offers to the Met all the time. Talk about elitist. I haven't yet but on my list is late day access to the Sistine Chapel. They let you in after the crowds for a few minutes to walk around. You don't have to stand on the sticky mat, either.

Kate said...

Italian museums want to make the ART comfortable. Humans are secondary. Lighting, flow of the crowd, length of time you get to look -- they don't care what people want.

rehajm said...

What EDH said. They all do it, even the Louvre.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

'the first time, ever I saw her face', curiously, the other famous, beautiful DaVinci's in the preceding gallery were somewhat ignored.
Who's fault is that?

Bill Peschel said...

Back in '77, I was in the Louvre. Mona was behind a window, in a big box built out from the wall.

Rather than photographs it, I shot the black female security guard standing next to the painting. You can still see Mona at an angle, but the bored woman looked far more compelling.

The point, I guess, is that even back then, she was an object of veneration, but disappointing in person.

Meanwhile, I've had great experiences contemplating art. An exhibit of Monet's swamps on the D.C. mall, the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit with not just her flower and skull paintings, but her earliest sketches, squiggles that seemed to represent experiments in Modernism.

Then there were the galleries in Lewes, Del., where there were paintings of beach houses in vibrant colors arranged like blocks of colors. Your eye shifted from the abstract to the concrete and back again. There was also a big painting by a Russian artist, a still life of fruit, that was so realistic you could pick a grape off it.

Never mind the other stuff in the Louvre that you could spend all day examining and feeling.

There's such an abundance of art that can touch you out there that if Mona went up in flames, would we really regret it?

robother said...

I always thought Carmine Sabatini's solution to the Mona Lisa problem was the best. Merely invoking his name was also the perfect answer to the douchebag post-modernist academic problem Ann raised earlier this morning.

jaydub said...

The traffic jams in the European museums and at other famous tourist sites are increasingly due to two somewhat recent developments: great numbers of Chinese tourists and mostly mega cruise ships. Both Chinese and cruisers usually come in organized tour groups of 30 - 40 persons which continually stop and crowd around the guide, thus stopping the normal flow at the most inconvenient points. Many of these groups are bused in from nearby ports and cities and you can partially avoid the congestion they cause by going to the more famous sites before the tour buses arrive or after they leave. The museums other tourist sites could also help significantly by prohibiting guided groups and offering audio guides instead. There are also other options to consider including visiting those museums during the winter when most of the big cruise ships head for the Caribbean and most of the Chinese head to warmer climes. The only really bad museum experience we had recently was the Hermitage in St Petersburg because everyone goes in guided groups - really somewhat forced to be that way because of Russia's unique visa requirements for non-guided tours. That said, it's not that hard to avoid Chinese and cruisers with a little fore planning.

I have also taken to wearing shorts to the museums as that scandalizes the art snobs and causes them to stay away, thus creating a more pleasant experience for everyone.

Ann Althouse said...

"A Van Gough is breath-taking even in a crowd. "

The Britney Spears show was breath-taking from the back row of a Vegas arena.

CWJ said...

"You'll never be surprised at the Met or the Louvre."

If so, then this suggests you're there to complete a checklist, and not really paying attention. I "discovered" El Greco at the Louvre, and Tiziano and Lipi at the Uffizi.

Ann Althouse said...

"Make the hallways themselves interesting, so people take their time."

But they won't. They'll charge to the main items that they already know are selfie worthy.

I remember going to The Cloisters in the 1980s (before the selfie era). A man had stopped to look at something hanging on the wall, one of the first things you'd see on the way in. And a little boy, maybe 8 years old, who had the brochure in hand, said to him, "Come on, Dad, that isn't one of the important ones."

Ann Althouse said...

Once I went to Florence in January, and there were very few visitors. I walked right up to the "Birth of Venus." No one else was looking at it. So I was troubled, wondering, is this really it?

AustinRoth said...

No print compares to the real thing. I never thought much of Jackson Pollock (thought he was an art critic fraud, in fact) until I saw his work in person.

There is something in his paintings in real life that no image can capture. I came away converted

Chris N said...

I’ve really only had this experience when I’m committed to other people You go partly to spend quality time together or as a unit, even if you’re standing in a pretty small room with what must be 75 other people, swirling around Rodin’s ‘Thinker.’ I think I barely saw the thing and leaving the room was like leaving a packed concert in July. It was a near absurd experience aesthetically but had other meaning for me.

Since we’re all being together right now let’s get something to eat and hell, this Parisian cafe waiter is rolling his eyes at us anyways and muttering under his breath so let’s not tone down the obnoxious American thing.

Fernandistein said...

but without giving them any substantial engagement with the materiality or cultural complexity of the art itself.

Pesky Deplorables running around loose, making things slightly more unpleasant for the Right People.

Ann Althouse said...

"The selfie thing never fails to amuse. Anytime you get a chance to see one of Jeff Koons' balloon dogs, go and watch people make pictures of it and themselves with it. It's like a great big joke being played on them and "investors" who have paid $50 million or more for each copy. See -- I was there!"

I think art like that goes well with selfies. The art reflects the culture. In situations like that (e.g., "the bean" in Chicago), I like to include the people in my photos. The reflective surface creates many interesting images, and I think all that was intentional. Wanting the people away from something like that is missing the point. The art is inherently populist.

tcrosse said...

Brava Althouse for seeing Tiziano in the Original. Most Americans only see him in translation as Titian.

Henry said...

"Make the hallways themselves interesting, so people take their time."

The Uffizi is one gigantic hallway. A daisy chain of rooms that connect one after another after another in a single route.

People start giving up half way and the mannerist galleries are are less crowded.

Ann Althouse said...

"The art is inherently populist."

Like the art that is the Althouse blog.

Sydney said...

I have had that experience at the Museum of Modern Art. I have only been there once. I went expressly to see "Starry Night" because I heard that when you view it in person, the stars seem to shimmer. I couldn't tell. It was swarmed by other people taking photos of it. I have a photo of people taking photos. I did enjoy looking at some of the lesser known works, though. They weren't crowded at all.
At the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh recently, my husband and I were the only ones at an exhibit called "Visions of Order and Chaos." We got there when the museum first opened. None of the items were famous, but they were interesting and enjoyable. My favorite item was a book on optics and color by Goethe.
I don't consider myself an elitist, but I do dislike crowds.

Fernandistein said...

A Hoard Of Jam.
Ethnic Pink Pilot.

Leland said...

I saw yesterday about 15 tourist destinations not worth the hype. The Mona Lisa was one for the reasons mentioned above, too many people. It was the same for most of the 15, including Westminster Abbey, which they claimed was worth seeing except for the crowds. I found this odd, because I've been to the Abbey and there is so much architecture to see, and I don't recall crowds at all.

I was hoping to see the Mona Lisa this October, but when I saw the image accompanying the paragraph about why it isn't a big deal; I was surprised how small it was. I think I may skip.

Otto said...

"If you cede these places to the other people, you're the opposite of an elitist. You're a populist.

And that reminds me of how I felt when Donald Trump won the election."

Code for "as an elitist i ceded to the deplorables by voting for Jill Stein"

Clarity,clarity,clarity.

CWJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"I remember going to The Cloisters in the 1980s (before the selfie era). A man had stopped to look at something hanging on the wall, one of the first things you'd see on the way in. And a little boy, maybe 8 years old, who had the brochure in hand, said to him, "Come on, Dad, that isn't one of the important ones."

Oh, no, it was in Paris in the 90s, and I found the drawing I made of it. Check the update!

Fernandistein said...

I don't consider myself an elitist, but I do dislike crowds.

Could anyone else tell whether or not you had a substantial engagement with the materiality or cultural complexity of the art itself so they could report on it?

CWJ said...

tcrosse,

I had no idea that I was Althouse. But thanks for confirming my suspician that I am invisible, at least regarding attribution.

Balfegor said...

I don't think looking at books of prints is really a substitute for actually visiting museums, because you lose that "serendipity" of ending up seeing something you didn't know you would like. If you get a book of prints (or look at galleries on the internet), you might look for "Old Dutch Masters" or perhaps "Prints by Jules Cheret," and you'll get thousands of pictures of old Dutch Masters and prints by Jules Cheret, but you won't have the experience of turning the corner and finding a bunch of foggy paintings by Whistler or, you know, some painter who isn't famous like Whistler, so you hadn't actually heard of him before.

Of course, you don't get that if your goal in visiting the museum is to see specific works of art (e.g. the Mona Lisa), and you're just racing point to point to tick them off your list.

Amexpat said...

One thing museums can do is ban taking photos/selfies. That would force people to focus on the art and not on documenting that they were "there". They use to do that in the Munch Room at National Gallery here in Oslo were I occasionally guide. They stopped that a few years ago and now there's always people in front of "The Scream" taking selfies. Makes it hard to guide there.

One thing individuals can do is avoid the big name art museums. There are lot of great second tier museums that don't attract the hordes of tourists. If you do go to a major museum, go off season, off hour.

tim in vermont said...

It would take days to see everything at the Louvre. All of it judged as fitting for the Louvre by people who knew a lot. Mona Lisa though, I still don’t get it.

tcrosse said...

@CWJ - My bad.

Fernandistein said...

Six-Minute Louvre

I did an approximately 15-Minute National Gallery while waiting for a bus.

Sydney said...

I went to the Cloisters this summer and it had been ruined by elitists. They had put up fashion exhibits from the Mets gala theme all over the place, even taking down some of their permanent exhibits to make room for the clothing. Yuk. I felt cheated out of my admission fee. Also, it seemed kind of sacrilegious to have those fashionista things hanging around true religious artifacts.

Roger Sweeny said...

There is a similar problem in the National Parks. So when we did a cross-country trip with the kids, we got a Park Service booklet called something like "Lesser Visited Parks." Chiricahua National Monument, Lava Beds National Monument. Amazing places. I'll never go to Yosemite and I don't care.

Ralph L said...

15 tourist destinations not worth the hype

I saw that too. We didn't even bother to get out of the car at Stonehenge in '85. Too many people, and you couldn't get near it. Plus a road and parking right next to it. They may have changed that since. I'd rather watch "Tess."

EDH said...

When I went to Paris in the 90s, I didn't bring a camera. I had a sketchbook...

"How romantic!"

Amexpat said...

All these people go to see the Mona Lisa. But how does she feel about it? Don't be fooled by that smile, she's not happy. She wants out, probably has the highway blues.

Ralph L said...

One thing museums can do is ban taking photos/selfies.

A good idea. When did museums start allowing them? Don't they want to make money selling prints?

CWJ said...

tcrosse,

Actually, the thought that something I wrote could be confused with Althouse is flattering in this case.

MarkW said...

If only the people who think looking at a print is an adequate substitute would stay out of museums, the people who think otherwise could have the experience those people make impossible.

But people can't take selfies in front of reproductions. Of course, they could, but that wouldn't show their friends that they are world travelers who are -- right now! -- in Paris!. I'd say that the value of reproductions varies from painting to painting. Viewing a high-res reproduction of the Mona Lisa is a vastly better experience than viewing the original. Reproductions are always well-lit and can be 'restored' to the original appearance in ways that the work itself often cannot. In museums, I frequently find myself annoyed by paintings spoiled by shadows cast by heavy frames or glare from the varnish -- problems that never appear in reproductions. I now go to art museums much more for obscure rather than famous works. I try to discover things that grab me that I'd never seen before. The last time I was at the Art Institute in Chicago, I ran across Marion Mahony Griffin (beautiful works by an interesting, almost forgotten woman). I also like to 'collect' paintings not famous enough to be available in print form -- I have a mirrorless camera that's small and unobtrusive but with a large sensor that does a great job in museum conditions (except in cases of shadow and glare -- grrr). A photo I took of a panel from Chagall's American Windows is now one of my favorite screen savers (and looks fantastic on our 4K TV).

But mostly, I think of travel being for 3 dimensions (architecture, cities, sculpture, natural landscapes), not 2.

Fernandistein said...

That would force people to focus on the art and not on documenting that they were "there".

But but ... perhaps the peasants are having substantial engagement with the materiality or cultural complexity of the "there" itself.

And certainly any modern camera is far more culturally complex than anything on display in an art museum, and, what with the button-pushing and finger-swiping and such, the engagement with the camera is more substantial than the engagement with some stuff hanging on a wall.

MadisonMan said...

When I see crowds, I see an opportunity to people-watch and speculate about others. It does, I admit, take away from the experience of "viewing art" -- but that doesn't mean it is a bad thing. You just have to be open to new experiences, which seems to be the whole point of travel, not just the experience you thought was going to happen. Be flexible.

Too bad Marjoo and Kennicott can't do this.

Bill Crawford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sparrow said...

Is there a tag for "first-world problems"?

Infinite Monkeys said...

People who don't appreciate art in the same manner I do shouldn't be going to museums. It doesn't matter if they leave feeling more connected to the art because they took a selfie with it. Their feelings are wrong and they suck.

Чикелит said...

This problem has to do with historical art — the past tense of art. What about the present and future art? It’s laguishing from neglect.

Michael said...

Althouse
Watch the documentary "The Art of the Steal". A fascinating look at the art world and the way in which the Barnes Foundation was taken over and its billions in paintings removed from their original home to a large space in Philadelphia where the hoardes can pay to look. It is always about the money.

The article, by the way, is another dig at the masses who have no business looking at these works which were intended for a very special group of elite people, people like you and me. Now we can't see the works without being jostled about. Unless, of course, we are clever enough to find the smaller museums that never seem to be crowded because they don't have the masterpiece drawing the crowd. In Madrid if there are lines snaking around the Prado I will go to the Sorolla, the artist's former home. Or I will steer clear of the rooms where the masterpieces are being showcased for the mobs and look, as I do in the Met, at the Roman sculptures or the Medieval Missals. No one looks at that stuff.

Nonapod said...

Art is for everyone, isn't it? Is art populist or elitist or neither? I do think that art tends to be easier to appreciate alone or in a smaller groups.

Unknown said...

Back before the Berlin Wall fell I visited a museum in Budapest. A very depressing experience.

Some wonderful paintings, but the museum was dreary, Eastern Bloc bleak.

Yellow lighting with bare low-watt bulbs, spaced far apart. Thick smeary plexiglass in front of many of the pieces, the plastic often scratched in the vandalized manner found on advertising kiosks in an NYC subway station.

The poor lighting made everything alternately dismally dark or obscured by glare.

I don't recall there being many visitors; one had the ability to have space when being frustrated by viewing a painting up close and still not quite seeing it.

On the plus-side of my visit to Hungary: an amazing cold cherry soup.

I am Laslo.

mockturtle said...

Whether in the US or abroad I usually avoid popular destinations and landmarks. Most of these have become cliché, anyway. The real joy of travel is discovery.

Phil 3:14 said...

There’s something Sad in this post; sad on several layers.

- Sad that we don’t appreciate when many others are trying to appreciate what we appreciate
- Sad that some appreciate a piece of art not for itself but because others appreciate it and so “I have to, too!”
- Sad that seemingly so many Trump voters are elitists (if you find the right topic)
- Sad that I’ve never been to the Louvre

Angle-Dyne, Samurai Buzzard said...

I have the luxury of being able to visit museums in the off-season, so crowds around the things I want to see are usually not a problem. (True even at the Louvre.) Some museums, e.g. the Muséee d'Orsay, always seem to be packed no matter what.

It was the Musée d'O that turned me into an art-viewing asshole. Before then, I was a very polite and civic-minded visitor. Wherever I went, if there were crowds around an artwork, I would wait my turn patiently, and then not stay as long as I wanted to at the front of the mob so that others would get their chance. But 99% of the selfie-taking mob at the d'O seemed to have no absolutely no interest in looking at the paintings. At best, they were moving rapidly from painting to painting, seeing them only through their camera lenses and taking photos. But for the most part they didn't even face the paintings, only posing with their backs to them and clicking.

Most annoying was some Russian chucklehead making a huge deal of getting himself photographed by his wife in front of Olympia. He kept yelling at her about how to frame the picture, hogging up all the space around the painting, taking forever to pose and re-pose himself to get it just right. Otherwise he evinced no interest in it.

Up to that point I had planned to do my usual civic-minded truncated viewing when I got to the front of the crowd. But right then something snapped, and I became the "what's in it for me" selfie-hating selfish person that I am today. When I got in front of the painting I parked my arse and did not budge until I had satisfied my soul with a long, minute, leisurely viewing, when necessary defending myself against all who presumed on my space with sharp (if wielded with plausible deniability) elbows.

You did this to me, art-indifferent photographers and selfie-takers. I wasn't raised this way. It was you who made me the asshole museum visiting monster that I am today.

I think I may have related this anecdote in a previous thread. I'm blaming selfie-takers for my memory-lapses as well as my turn to impoliteness.

Michael said...

People who stand with their backs to a painting, blocking everyone else's view, and take pictures of themselves with the painting over their shoulders are neither populist nor elitist - they're idiots. They seem to think this is Pokemon.(This is a different Michael.)

Michael K said...


Blogger Ann Althouse said...
Once I went to Florence in January, and there were very few visitors.


Key insight. Anyone who travels in August deserves the crowds. June is not too bad because most schools are still in session.

tim in vermont said...

That's a shame about Olympia, seeing that in person as a complete surprise to me anyway, is one of my favorite memories of traveling in Europe.

Angle-Dyne, Samurai Buzzard said...

Phil 3:14:

- Sad that seemingly so many Trump voters are elitists (if you find the right topic)

I'm one Trump voter who never claimed to be anti-elitist. I'm strongly elitist. I just have a different idea of what an elite is supposed to be and do than the people presuming on that role at present.

- Sad that I’ve never been to the Louvre

Don't feel bad. You'd probably just find yourself getting elbowed by that asshole old lady blocking your view of that painting you came to see.

Laslo Spatula said...

Back before the Berlin Wall fell I visited a museum in Budapest. A very depressing experience.

Some wonderful paintings, but the museum was dreary, Eastern Bloc bleak.

Yellow lighting with bare low-watt bulbs, spaced far apart. Thick smeary plexiglass in front of many of the pieces, the plastic often scratched in the vandalized manner found on advertising kiosks in an NYC subway station.

The poor lighting made everything alternately dismally dark or obscured by glare.

I don't recall there being many visitors; one had the ability to have space when being frustrated by viewing a painting up close and still not quite seeing it.

On the plus-side of my visit to Hungary: an amazing cold cherry soup.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Sorry for the double post. Having account problems with Google. First post went up as Unknown; now can't delete it.

mockturtle said...

Laslo! You're back!!! Missed you so much!

GRW3 said...

The British Museum has one gallery that I would call a Museum Museum. It's set up the way the museum into the '80s (like I saw it in '84). Cabinets, bookshelves, organized and orderly. No real themes or explanatory displays. Interesting contrast to the rest of the museum which is very modern in approach. It's always pretty crowded because the main galleries are free.

I've been to the major art museums, including the Louvre. Saw the Mona Lisa in '83, it was a cold weekday in Paris so there was no big crowd. The viewing didn't stand out as a revelation, not compared to other things. Mostly I think it's a matter of who painted it that matters.

One of the revelations of my travels is how the Old Masters painted the same thing a lot. You will see the same scene painted over and over. I had noted this and then some time in my travels one museum (can't remember which) did an exhibition on that very subject, pulling in works from several museums. They didn't just hang theme but did an analysis on the differences.

You can get an Art Education in a Day by going to the National Gallery on the Mall in DC. Their walk through the history art from primitive to modern is very instructive.

Phil 3:14 said...

“Having account problems with Google. First post went up as Unknown; now can't delete it.”

Lazlo, you are one Google’s radar.

Be afraid; be very afraid.

rcocean said...

We spent two days in the Louvre and Orssey (sic). The first day, we looked at EVERYTHING. The 2nd day, we just went back to re-look at those paintings we really enjoyed.

While my wife loved the Impressionists, I loved the 19th century paintings that most art snobs look down on. There's one of Napoleon crowning himself, and another of French Soldiers in asleep in a field dreaming of revanche. And some shipwrecked survivors on a raft.

William said...

I recently saw The Woman in Gold painting at the Neue Galerie in NYC. The movie version is much better. They did something with the lighting in the movie version. The painting really came alive and glowed in the movie. At the museum, it had a a kind of flat sheen and was nowhere near as vibrant. Some movies are better than the book. This is true, also, of some paintings........In terms of value, I wonder if a work of art is worth more if it were banned by the Nazis or confiscated by the Nazis. Anyway, The Woman in Gold has an interesting backstory which adds to its luster.

Earnest Prole said...

If you are interested in these questions -- the decline of travel, the primacy of images in modern culture, fake everything -- there is no better book than Daniel Boorstin's The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1962). By pseudo-events he means fake news, but the book ranges much further than that.

Clark said...

I get overwhelmed pretty quickly in a big museum. A technique I sometimes use is looking at only one work of art per room. I enter the room, scan it, make a snap judgment about which painting or sculpture I want to look at, and then I spend my time in that room with that one piece. That usually puts me on about the same pace as whatever friends I am with. And I don't get that all-my-life-forces-have-been-drained-out-of-me feeling that I otherwise get in a museum.

tcrosse said...

I get overwhelmed pretty quickly in a big museum.

Gestalt Overload. I get it, too.

buwaya said...

rcocean -

La Reve - Detaille

At th D'Orsay

buwaya said...

Le Reve

Damned French.

SDaly said...

Travel is overrated, but there are some things that you have to experience in person. I just came back from the Grand Canyon, which I would consider as falling within that group. Bonus is that, although somewhat crowded, it is so big that there are plenty of spots where you can escape from others and experience it virtually alone.

Ralph L said...

The older I get, the less I like to be surrounded by large groups of strangers.

Christy said...

I wonder if Hermaphroditus Sleeping is more or less popular at the Louvre in these days of many more than 2 genders?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Two years ago the wife and I toured Yellowstone. We certainly expected crowds, and crowds were what we found. I was a little surprised at the nature of the crowds, though-- at leas 40% Chinese, disgorged from an endless train of shiny buses. I make no judgment. Chinese people are as entitled as anyone to admire my incredible country. I remember thinking at the time that China must be doing very well for these tourists to be able to haul kids, grandmas and au pairs halfway around the world to see a geyser.

Suddenly I am reminded-- and this is incredibly apropos-- that when we were beginning our trip we stopped at the In and Out in Barstow, the last one we'd see for quite a while. The In and Out was huge, maybe a quarter acre in size, and it was packed so tight you could barely get in, much less find a place to sit. In this case, the tour bus Chinese comprised at least 75% of the customers, shiny buses lined up in the shiny bus parking area. Can't blame them. In and Out IS America.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ban photos. Then people who want to see the art will come to see the art and the people who only want selfies will go elsewhere.

buwaya said...

"China must be doing very well"

Yes it is.

" Then people who want to see the art will come to see the art and the people who only want selfies will go elsewhere."

I want to take pictures of the other people. Street photography. The tourists are funnier and more interesting than the scenery often enough. Best scenery is usually very early, at dawn, before they show up; less usually at dusk, but depends on the light.

buwaya said...

"The older I get, the less I like to be surrounded by large groups of strangers."

Its what you are used to.
Where I come from "a sea of humanity" is a common and very apt description.
Its homey.

buwaya said...

My favorite at San Francisco's Legion of Honor -

Russian Bride - Makovsky

Its a huge thing. No crowds.

Rabel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BUMBLE BEE said...

MonaLisa Twins on youtube for some 60s English Invasion cover tunes... bring your headphones!

Rabel said...

"Slow art" my ass.

Semi-reclusive billionaire wants the tax advantages of moving his extensive art collection into his privately owned museum while avoiding the requirement that such a museum must be open to the public to qualify for said tax advantages so he makes it possible but extremely difficult for the public to visit the museum and enlists a writer to back him up with a few pages of piffle to justify his financial motivations.

The owner got into IRS trouble for the same thing before.

roesch/voltaire said...

The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something... To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion all in one. And as John Ruskin pointed out we can sometimes see that in art work seen in many places including museums and churches.

Harold said...

I'm tall enough that I could see the Mona Lisa well enough from the back of the crowd so I didn't spend much time in the room. I did turn around and take in the enormous picture that hangs opposite the Mona Lisa. Then on my way out I took a picture of the crowd taking pictures of the Mona Lisa. My wife and I spent the whole day in the Louvre and I agree about the painting overload that occurs, "Oh look another saint bleeding out."

Etienne said...

A lot of people don't know this, but Lisa was pissed that the painting cut off her extraordinary legs.

She never accepted the painting, and da Vinci never finished it.

rcocean said...

La Reve - Detaille

At the D'Orsay


Thanks. I would've bet a million $ - I saw it at the Louvre!

Ah, unreliable memories.

Michael K said...

The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something

I always though to was to feed my family and raise intelligent kids.

But what did I know ?

buwaya said...

"The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something"

I differ. The greatest thing is to make something worth seeing.
Strong sons and daughters, a happy mother.

Etienne said...

The greatest thing in the world is to monetize other peoples junk left at the curb.

Anthony said...

I went to see the ML several years ago and they had big signs saying "No flash photography" but everyone was taking flash photographs and none of the guards did anything.

Etienne said...

Lisa not having bushy eyebrows is probably some kind of censorship about uncovered womens faces that were enforced by the Saracens.

funsize said...

The Louvre is a little overwhelming. Luckily, there are so many non-paintings you can view to break up the mass. There was a lovely display of antique furnishings (I don't know if these things change or not, it may still be there), lots of interesting antiquities, sculpture, etc. The Mona Lisa moment was definitely experienced, and I was sorta repulsed and left quickly. However, I did have a "moment" with other famous pieces, specifically the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Venus de Milo. They have a gravitas in person that the tiny painting just doesn't.

tcrosse said...

everyone was taking flash photographs and none of the guards did anything.

They probably would have done something if it was the Original. The Louvre has a basement full of copies.

mikee said...

Finding one item in a museum and spending just five minutes staring at it, noting details and walking one's view from point to point across or around the work, makes for an interesting visit.

Thus my son learned that in the Baltimore Museum of Art sculpture garden, Rodin's study for his monumental statue of Balzac still has the lines of the mold's joints across the author's bare buttocks. It was, after all, just a practice cast of a study for the actual work of art.

What is behind you is of no importance.

Etienne said...

"The Louvre has a basement full of copies."


The street artists will paint you one in 5 minutes, and put your wife's face on it.

Oops, I said wife... Is that still allowed? Maybe I should have said a non-male genders face.

Unknown said...

Don't like crowds? Charge more to enter the gallery until the crowd is a size you like.

-sw

Michael K said...

The street artists will paint you one in 5 minutes, and put your wife's face on it.

I have a couple of street artist paintings framed in my house. They are wonderful. One is a watercolor of Venice we bought in St Marks Square almost 40 years ago.

stever said...

Because we live at a time when people have far more awareness of the world, and access to it, means great things are well known. Like a good restaurant gets good reviews on the internet and becomes popular and often diminishes the experience.

roesch/voltaire said...

I can read that a quote from John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice doesn’t go over well with Althouses’ enlightened bloggers, oh well. I have traveled to Europe, Japan, and China fairly ofte and I always try to balance culture with country.If we spend a week in Paris then we like
to bike a week in Provance; it gives balance and grounding and two different experiences of beauty.

tcrosse said...

Provence.

roesch/voltaire said...

Thanks for the spell check

Balfegor said...

Re: Tyrone Slothrop:

I am in Tokyo right now, and the number of Chinese tourists just seems to increase every year. Ginza is constantly full of huge Chinese tour groups. For whatever reason, they aren't nearly as noticeable anywhere else in the city, though, even at the major tourist spots like Ueno or Asakusa, or the Meiji Shrine. I suspect it is the shopping at fancy stores -- maybe I would see them in Omotesando or Daikanyama if I visited those neighbourhoods regularly. It is a little surprising to hear US national parks are part of the PRC tour packages, though.

Balfegor said...

Re: Roesch

Where would you recommend if I wanted to visit the Chinese countryside? Everywhere I know I want to go (Qufu, Suzhou, Changchun, Chengdu) is urban, and I don't hear particularly good things about the rural countryside.

Sacto_Dave said...

It seems this thread is along a similar vein to the one we discussed a day or two ago about how the hoi polloi has polluted the great tourist sites. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

M Jordan said...

I have two strong memories of the Louvre, which I went to in 2005 . One was the Asian tourists in groups, a guide blathering on and on, the men in the group snapping a picture then looking for the next thing to check off their lists. Two, the increduble number of penises on display. Didn’t any of the ancient Romans wear pants? I asked my wife. At some point I began a running tally to see if penises outnumbered breasts which, as you know had an unfair advantage of coming in twos. Breasts won, barely. Barely. Get it?

rehajm said...

Two years ago the wife and I toured Yellowstone. We certainly expected crowds, and crowds were what we found. I was a little surprised at the nature of the crowds, though-- at leas 40% Chinese, disgorged from an endless train of shiny buses.

The issue in and around West Yellowstone now is Chinese buying up the real estate.