The Worst Museum Experience Ever?

This other day, I made a trip to the museum. And it was positively the worst museum experience I’ve ever had. I won’t name names, because that’s besides the point (if I want to bitch against a specific museum, I’ll be posting on Tripadvisor). In any case, it’s one of those newly opened museums that’s huge and grand and new and trendy, and though I’ve been there once with a group we didn’t manage to see everything, so this day I decided to make use of my afternoon off to complete the visit.

Shortly after I entered one of the galleries, I noticed something amiss: the museum guards were chatting among themselves. There I was, trying to focus on a painting by Kandinsky, and two of the guards were chatting to each other—I do mean chatting, not whispering. Sure, they didn’t spend all their time talking, but it was frequent enough to be quite distracting. I’m reminded of the solemn guards at the KKL who didn’t speak a word and barely even smiled when I exchanged glances with them. At the time I thought they were a little too serious; but compared to these chatting staff, they’re like angels. Considerate angels who spare a thought for their museum visitors by keeping their mouths shut.

A painting by Paul Klee, a somewhat comical depiction of an angel
Novus Angel, a painting by Paul Klee (Low Res Only)

If that weren’t enough, the visitors were talking among themselves too. Not only did the visitors keep entering the gallery, but each and every one of these groups was talking. Again, not whispering, but talking casually to each other in their normal tones and discussing their thoughts about the works as though they were at a coffee shop. I once met this annoying gentleman at the Van Gogh Museum who had to explain all about the history and background of each painting to his peers but, at least, once I distanced myself from him, I had my peace. But here?  There was no escape, not anywhere.

Now I have this habit of thinking to myself when studying art works, like,”Now that’s a bold stroke—it’s clear how much passion he put into each stroke”, “The painter seems a little hesitant here huh?”, “Wow, I like these colors. Vibrant.” So when people around me were chatting and discussing things aloud, my thoughts were naturally interrupted and I couldn’t enjoy the visit at all.

The last straw was when a couple brought their kids into the gallery, the older one stomping around and the younger one loudly sharing with her parents which painting she liked. You probably won’t be surprised to know that the museum guards didn’t do a thing to ask them to be quieter—they simply looked on in oblivion. And you’d think the parents would be hushing their children—I mean, this is an art gallery after all. But no, they behaved exactly like they’d in a mall, talking to their kids and even lingering and chatting among themselves in the gallery after they’re done browsing. In my mind, I was like,”HELP. Somebody save me from these maniacs.”

Todd Balthazor's comic strip about a crying baby in the museum
Looks like I’m not alone—click here to read the full comic strip by Todd Balthazor

If you’re used to quiet, solemn galleries like myself, I’m sure you’d be reading my experience in horror and disgust. The thing is, besides myself, it doesn’t seem like anyone was disturbed by this un-gallery like atmosphere and noise level. Everyone seemed to be accepting it like that was the natural state of things. Maybe this is the new way of visiting museums? Maybe this is what all the hipper museums are like: lively, open to animated discussions, and “interactive”. Maybe I’m the outdated has-been who’s still living in the past. But if this really is where museums are going, and ten years down the road all museums will be lively, hip places to hang out, then that would be the time I stop going to museums. I’d probably just coop myself up at home studying the digital images of paintings online.

But in case you think I’m taking the moral high ground and using this post to criticize selfish museum visitors, you’d only be half right. Remember I said in the beginning that this was my second visit to the same museum? During my first visit, I was with a group of museum enthusiasts. While I didn’t spend a lot of time interacting with them (I was mostly studying the artworks by myself), I am sure I wasn’t whispering when I spoke to the group, and I’m sure we were as loud as any group can get. Even back then, it didn’t feel right that we should be making that much noise, but I was with a group and we didn’t seem to be the only noisy ones, so I didn’t think too much about it. Only now do I realize how inconsiderate we were—I was.

So yes, I’m reflecting on my bad behavior, and I swear I’ll never visit a museum in a group anymore. I might still visit with a friend, but only if she’s as particular about museum etiquette.

One last observation: it’s scary how our external environment dictates our behavior. Once people around us start behaving in a particular way, we begin to assume that the said behavior is thus acceptable. Which is probably why good museums should, from the start, instruct their staff to be as solemn as possible, and maintain an air of seriousness. Once the prevailing atmosphere is set, it will be a lot less likely for visitors to make a din and disturb the others. Unless, of course, I was right about the future trend of museums. In which case I’ll be losing one of my greatest pleasures in life, for sure. Life sucks sometimes, huh.