Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gallery Rage

You've probably guessed from my tone in previous blog posts that I find visiting major galleries tiresome, a waste of time. The last time I visited the National Gallery, I left down hearted when I should have been up-lifted. The gallery was  noisy and crowded, with the type of people I spend my time avoiding. I spent 15 miserable minutes being elbowed and pushed, before I left.

Major exhibitions are so heavily marketed to the general public that they are ruined for art lovers. I suppose it's a good day out for some. A day in London, visit a gallery, have lunch, visit the gallery shop, buy fridge magnets, look at some paintings. It's terrible state of affairs and it cheapens the experience of viewing something beautiful.

When I left the National the last time, I vowed never to return, unlesss it was by private invitation when the gallery was closed to the public (fat chance). I found the experience apalling and thought it couldn't any worse. But I was wrong, it is worse!

The Gauguin exhibition at the Tate, which ended this week saw record numbers of visitors. Crowds flocked to the artist's first major British exhibition in 50 years. But large numbers left disappointed and angered by the scrum around every painting. Parents with baby buggies, groups of schoolchildren, art students, middle-aged art lovers and hundreds of day trippers all competed for elbow room. Many of them left the building in a state of what one prominent art critic called "gallery rage".

One report said:
"The crowding in front of the paintings on display was so bad, according to angry art fans and critics, that they have vowed never to go to such a big show again. A fraught debate is now expected in the art world over the need for different forms of crowd control for Britain's major art shows."

Crowd control! Ha ha.


  1. I have never suffered gallery rage Tim, it's probably because I dont visit them enough, in fact the last time I visited the national gallery (about six years ago) it was a very pleasent experience. I do however suffer from other sorts of rage such as road rage (where are all those people going anyway), supermarket rage, and I have even been known to have bouts of Angling rage, ( havn't those people got anything better to do than spoil my fishing), the question I think we should ask ourselves is are we really suffering rage or just becoming grumpy old men. stay young my friend.

  2. That's a tough issue. On the one hand I'm glad that more people are aware of and have access to art. On the other hand, the viewing of art requires a certain amount of mental space so one can absorb it and hear what their own thoughts are saying about it. I admit it! I would prefer to have an entire museum or gallery to myself! And I've often had that pleasure, or nearly so, in less famous venues.

    The most recent experience I had with a major exhibition was last month in San Francisco where the de Young Museum was the only place in North America where paintings from Paris' Musee d'Orsay were being displayed. It was very crowded, but the museum did allow only a certain number of people inside the exhibit at any one time (if 5 visitors exited, then 5 were allowed to enter), and once you exited you couldn't return.

    Having experienced the raging crowds at LACMA in the 90's when the Van Gogh exhibit was there, I had a feeling what could be in store at the de Young. So, I used the rest room, made sure I was fed and hydrated, and gave myself a pep talk on patience. It's like preparing for a hike! It took me over 3 hours, and should have taken only one. At the same time, there were others who breezed through in 20 minutes.

    I don't know what the answer is, but there must be one. Art viewing in a mosh pit can't continue. I grumbled inwardly a few times at the de Young as there were some clueless visitors milling around. But I also ended up gleaning one very special experience with a piece of art at that exhibition. And that will always be with me.



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