Museum Month(s) in Review: My Top 5 Museum Truths

If there's a non-famous Michelangelo, I'm in!
If there’s a non-famous Michelangelo, I’m in!

Museum Month(s) has revealed Museum Truth(s) to me. As I’ve reviewed museums in NYC, Paris, Berlin, and Florence (Rome will be next, I swear! I’m not procrastinating on that one or anything) I’ve realized there are a few hard and fast truths for me when it comes to museum visiting. So here, when it’s nearly Christmas, and when I’m totally NOT procrastinating about writing about Rome, are my Museum Truth(s):

The empty central courtyard at the Gemäldegalerie. YES.
The empty central courtyard at the Gemäldegalerie. YES.

1. Museums should be NOT crowded:

If a museum is crowded, it doesn’t matter how good the art is (ahem MoMA, Met, Louvre, and Uffizi), it’s not enjoyable. Isn’t the point of going to museums to enjoy them? Especially when you’re on vacation??

The unbearably lovely garden at the Rodin Museum, Paris.
The unbearably lovely garden at the Rodin Museum, Paris.

2. Museums should have windows and/or natural light and/or open spaces:

Unending jewel-toned rooms that become labyrinthine rabbit-warrens of suffocating painting = no bueno (I’m looking at you again Met). Bonus points if there’s a garden. Bonus bonus points if there’s a garden with a cafe.

Rondanini Pietà anyone?
Rondanini Pietà anyone?

3. Must-sees are LAME, or, there are plenty of Michelangelo sculptures that can be visited without crowds and without fuss (ahem Accademia).

There are quite a few Michelangelo sculptures around (Bruges, Paris, Milan, Florence, Florence, Florence, Rome, etc. etc), many of which you can view while enjoying your own company, peace, quiet, and no line. Skip the David, c’mon, I dare you.

Excellent looting guys.
Excellent looting guys.

4. Issues of cultural appropriation and heritage are sticky, but “borrowed” buildings are way, way fun.

Whether at the Cloisters in NYC or the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (among other places too), putting buildings from far away inside other buildings might raise some ethical questions, but it ALWAYS makes for a fascinating museum experience.


5. As great as art is (and about 97.5% of my reviews have been about art museums), Dinosaurs always win


Me appreciating a museum (photo credit, my big sis Abbie Graham)
Me appreciating a museum (photo credit, my big sis Abbie Graham)

Bonus #6!: Museums are rad even if they’re poorly designed, crowded, or too full of “must-sees”

I’ve ragged on a lot of museums in my reviews over the last two months, but I want to be clear about something: anytime people visit museums and bring art into their everyday lives, it’s a good thing. Even if it’s a visit to someplace annoying like MoMA, it can ONLY be good for people to look at art that can frustrate, attract, disgust, inspire, or intrigue them. Yes, sometimes museums could do it better (and yes, I am talking about the MoMA, come on, do better guys). But I always vote for more art! More art for everyone!!


22 thoughts on “Museum Month(s) in Review: My Top 5 Museum Truths

  1. I really enjoy your take on museums. Less crowded ones like the Phillips in DC and of course, our Greenville County Museum of Art and Pickens County Museum are among my favorites. The biggies always seem to make me want to go outside again and take px.

  2. I love museums yet I will have to agree with your “Truths”! I remember trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and felt like I was going to get trampled to death by the sheer amount of people jostling to get a look! The other thing that bugs me is the ethnocentrisms of North American and European museums – especially if they bill themselves as to be multi-cultural….why, then, is the Aboriginal or African art pretty much always in the basement?

  3. I live in the New York area so the first point you make is the one that really resonates with me. I could easily love MOMA, the Met, maybe even the Guggenheim (though I doubt it), if there were only one-tenth the amount of people that are usually there. Sometimes I’ll go to a smaller regional art museum and think it’s absolutely brilliant. But I think that’s mostly because it isn’t so crowded and I can actually see the art.

    1. Definitely still go, but be prepared for crowds and maybe do a little research– see the breadth and depth of their collections, and maybe you’ll find something interesting that you’ll have all to yourself. At the Louvre, while the Mona Lisa is swamped, the Babylonian art (which includes the *actual* stele with Code of Hammurabi) had hardly any people in it!

  4. So agree about the crowds. Why are other visitors all six foot tall, short sighted and selfish? I was particularly annoyed by a group of trainee curators in our National Gallery who were being lectured on how to set up an exhibition and stood in front of the pictures I wanted to look at!

  5. Thanks for the like on my Largest Mosque in Istanbul. For museum truths #2, I would add extra points for a good museum shop. If I am not familiar with the subject, the shop can be a great aid in determining whether to spend the time and money to see the exhibits. Cheers on a thought engaging post.

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