The Unfortunate Side Effect of Art's Popularity Open Thread
The Academy is too large and too vulgar. Whenever I have gone there, there have been either so many people that I have not been able to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have not been able to see the people, which was worse.I was reminded of that quote while reading Michael Kimmelman's article on the renovations and expansion of the Prado in Madrid. From The New York Times:
--Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
For many years, the Prado was almost a secret in plain sight. Years of Spanish isolation, neglect under Franco, then institutional incompetence, compounded the impression of narcolepsy. Melancholy reports of leaks in the ceiling, or yet another director promising change before evaporating, overshadowed the odd loan exhibition. Save for busloads of Japanese tourists, the world simply seemed to pass the Prado by.I've only ever visited the Prado during the ARCO art fair, but still (even with all those extra art lovers in town) it struck me as a refreshingly uncrowded break from the hordes I've found when visiting the Louvre or Uffizi or even the Tate Modern (and don't even get me started on the mob that seems to be ever-present at New York's museums [I swear it's the same ten thousand people every time I go]). Given the number of legendary works of art at the Prado and the ease with which one could move from one to the next (other than in the Vermeer exhibition, that is), I received news of the Prado's strategy to increase attendance even more with mixed emotion. Clearly the collection deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Ten minutes before Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights could replace the entire first year of instruction in most universities' painting departments IMHO. But still, I hate to see every museum reach Disneyland-like lines. Alas, time marches on:
Truth be told, it was nice. While every other museum concocted Monet blockbusters and fancy new buildings by celebrity architects to name after trustees and satisfy the bean counters who judge success by the number of visitors through the turnstiles rather than by the quality and care of the collection, the Prado stuck with Velázquez and Goya and Titian and Tintoretto in rooms of increasingly shabby grandeur. Before such pictures, nothing else really mattered.
The Prado has in the last several years hired a crew of gifted young curators under an ambitious young director with Byronic good looks named Miguel Zugaza. Now there’s a serious and world-class exhibition program, more than two million visitors annually (this year a record number is expected) — and, just opening, a 237,000-square-foot extension.Folks who work in museums I like tell me there are times when it's not so crowded, but they never seem to be the times I'm free to attend. Normally I'm attending an opening or squeezing in a visit during a business trip or, even more likely, trying to see a show on its last day. Back when I was just out of college, some family member asked me what the Mona Lisa looked like the first time I came home from Paris. "Like the backs of a lot of other tourists' heads," I reported. Sadly, that pretty much sums up my typical museum experience any more.
I don't know, short of perfecting my cat burglar skills so that I could enter any museum after hours (yes, I suffer from TCFS [Thomas Crown Fantasy Syndrome]), what to do about this. The opposite situation (where few people were attending museums) is not an attractive alternative.
I don't have any answers here, btw. Just musing. Consider this an open thread.