Museum Etiquette + Van Gogh Exhibit

People today have terrible museum etiquette. It drives me crazy.

National Gallery Victoria

Art is such an important component of my life. I very nearly graduated with a BA in Art History. Instead I ended up with a BA in English Lit and two credits shy of my Art History major. Its a long story, but I still kick myself for not finishing that degree.

Understandably, art still holds a very dear place in my heart. I am much more passionate about the visual arts than the literary, and am much more frequently moved in a gallery than within a dust cover. That’s just the way I am.

National Gallery Victoria

A huge component of art, however, is the venue through which you consume it. For most, that’s generally a museum.

How a piece of art is presented is just as important as the work itself.

Too many museums have terrible lighting. You are not supposed to see a light glare on a painting. Also, too many are laid out poorly, with bad flow. All these things can affect how a person perceives a piece of art.

The worst component in the 21st century, however, are the other visitors.

Taking photos of artwork is a massive pet peeve of mine. You will never see a photo I have taken of a painting on this blog. Because I don’t do it. I HATE IT! What is the point? Seriously. Can anyone tell me if they actually go back and look at photos of paintings? What do you get out of it? Is a postcard not better?

I remember going to museums before smartphones. It was a completely different experience. Only a handful of visitors would whip out their camera to take a picture, and they would do it quickly and, with a little guilt. Like, “Sorry guys, I know I’m lame, but I really want a photo of this Picasso.” I can’t believe I used to roll my eyes at those people. I long for those days now.

National Gallery Victoria.

So what spurred this tirade on museum etiquette?

While in Melbourne Jason and I went to the National Gallery Victoria on the opening day of Van Gogh and the Seasons. The National Gallery Victoria is a brilliant museum, and this special exhibition featuring close to 50 pieces by the artist was a once in a lifetime experience. Unfortunately, it was difficult for me to concentrate on the subject matter due to all the snapping that was happening.

People were packed into the hall and 4 out of 5 had their smartphones out taking pictures left and right.

The majority of these people weren’t even looking at the painting. Multiple culprits zipped through the entire exhibit, snapping pics of each work without stopping to take in what they were actually (supposed to be) seeing. Again, what is the point?

National Gallery Victoria

The absolute worst offender was a man taking pictures with his iPad. Fuck you. You seriously suck. This person stood in front of the piece de resistance for a solid 45 seconds trying to get a “good” photo with his iPad. Blocking the view of the few people actually trying to look at and appreciate the work in the moment. Just writing about it now is causing anger to bubble out of me with furious vigor. [Insert multiple expletives]

I have never experienced an exhibit amidst such terrible people before. It saddens me greatly that my experience of this truly fantastic exhibit is marred with the memory of all these careless idiots.

Now for the good stuff.

National Gallery Victoria

This was one of the best special exhibits I’ve ever experienced (aside from the aforementioned assholes). In fact, I had a much better experience and understanding of Van Gogh’s works throughout this exhibit than I did at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Read into that what you will.

The exhibit provides ample accompanying information in each section, giving the audience a deeper understanding of the themes in Van Gogh’s work as well as covering his turbulent life. The available audio guide, an extra $8 AUD, has excerpts from his personal letters that coincide with each featured piece.

The Seasons.

Van Gogh was very attune to the change in the seasons, and it was a prevalent theme in his works. Each painting in the exhibit has been catalogued according to the season it depicts, and thus the layout was developed.

Beginning with Autumn, the visitor is guided through works from varying stages of Van Gogh’s life. It was fascinating to see his earlier paintings adjacent to later pieces, dealing with similar subject matter. It is a rare experience to be in the midst of so many pieces by a single artist so prevalent in popular culture.

My favorite moment of any museum visit is when I discover a new piece to obsess over. This time it was Pine Trees Against an Evening Sky, 1889. Painted during his time at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole Asylum, the image depicts a grove of pine trees that have been marred by a recent storm. Broken branches are contrasted by the vibrant orange of the setting sun. The visible brush strokes, characteristic of Van Gogh’s later works, enhance the feeling of movement in the piece. I love it.

Other Highlights

Autumn

Olive Grove with Two Olive Pickers. 1889

Winter

Snow Covered Field with a Harrow (after Millet). 1890

Spring

Tree Trunks in the Grass. 1890

Summer

Still Life with Wildflowers and Carnations. 1887

Self Portrait. 1887

A Wheatfield, with Cypresses. 1889

Conclusions.

Obviously there were many more pieces at the exhibit than shown above, but those were my favorites. If you are in Melbourne, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery Victoria and seeing this exhibit – 28 April to 9 June ’17. Just don’t take your phone.

 


 

The above images depicting Van Gogh’s works are courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria website.

 


 

Anyone else get super annoyed by poor museum etiquette? More likely someone here is offended by my opinion. If so, please let me know what purpose you achieve by taking photos of masterpieces in the comments. I really want to know.

2 comments

  1. I went and saw this exhibit on one of its last days and agree with your sentiment! I don’t understand why people need to photograph everything – just look it up on the nets when you get back, if you’re that desperate. Worst was a girl at the end, trying to get her fella to photographise her with VG’s SP. At least the experience came with some lols… and the art was good.

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