Monday, October 12, 2009

McMona? Or, When Museums Become a Bit Too Popular

Quick. What do you think of when someone mentions Paris?

Romantic strolls along the Seine at dusk? Baguettes with butter and jam and coffee for breakfast at some charming bistro? World class art across its myriad museums? Whether or not to supersize your Quarter Pounder meal?

Well the truth of the matter, according to the UK's Daily Telegraph, is that
France has become McDonald's biggest market in the world outside of the US, according to the chain. While business in traditional brasseries and bistros is in freefall, the fast food group opened 30 new outlets last year in France and welcomed 450 million customers – up 11 per cent on the previous year.
And so I guess it was only a matter of time until this happened:
Lovers of France's two great symbols of cultural exception – its haute cuisine and fine art – are aghast at plans to open a McDonald's restaurant and McCafé in the Louvre museum next month.

America's fast food temple is celebrating its 30th anniversary in France with a coup -the opening of its 1,142nd Gallic outlet a few yards from the entrance to the country's Mecca of high art and the world's most visited museum.

The chain faces a groundswell of discontent among museum staff, many already unhappy about the Louvre lending its name and works to a multi-million pound museum project in Abu Dhabi.

"This is the last straw," said one art historian working at the Louvre, who declined to be named. "This is the pinnacle of exhausting consumerism, deficient gastronomy and very unpleasant odours in the context of a museum," he told the Daily Telegraph.

Didier Rykner, head of The Art Tribune website found the idea "shocking".

"I'm not against eating in a museum but McDonald's is hardly the height of gastronomy," he said, adding that it was a worrying mixture of art and consumerism. "Today McDonald's, tomorrow low-cost clothes shops," he said.
At a certain point, protesting such things simply feeds into the "art world types are elitist" narrative. When the truth of the matter is, who really cares? Most museums, including the Louvre (see here), are already marketing themselves as little more than culture theme parks as it is. Debating whether McDonalds is the last straw is a bit like debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Museums need bigger crowds to operate and grow, and those crowds will feel more welcome if the museums recognize and attend to their wants and needs.

The only thing I regret in all this, honestly, is the ability to slow down and reflect upon a work of art or two in a museum without being jostled or rushed by the movement of the hordes. Having visited one of New York's premier museums with Bambino yesterday (a Sunday...what kind of idiots are we, eh? The kind that work other days, but...) to find it only slightly more crowded and yet remarkably less pleasant than the 42nd Street subway station during rush hour, I couldn't wait to get out of there. There were miraculous things to behold, but no mental or physical room in which to do so.

A while back we discussed Michael Kimmelman's response a trip to a museum in which he noted how current generations of museum goers fly through, snapping photos like they were running a marathon. Michael noted of his visit how, "Almost nobody, over the course of that hour or two, paused before any object for as long as a full minute."

If that museum were anywhere near as packed as the one we visited yesterday, it's no wonder. How could they pause that long? They'd be trampled.

So what's the answer? Do you make the museums less welcoming, so that there's more room to spend time with the works? If you do that, though, will you have to make them more expensive?

Museum directors, who are having to cut staff and programming, I'm sure are thinking "Screw you, Winkleman. We need as many visitors as we can get." But that's where I begin to wonder...to do what? File through like cattle? Is that the goal? Indeed, I'm beginning to wonder if the behavior Kimmelman lamented isn't the natural result of the way museums are attracting visitors. A McDonalds in the basement? Like one could get near enough to it to be offended anyway.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

As Yogi Berra said
"Nobody goes there anymore, its too crowded"

10/12/2009 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedricx C said...

When I think of Paris...

A lot of parisians are flocking to Montreal these days (come live here), as they are fed up with Paris. I never seen so many parisians in Montreal as in the last 3 years. It's ironic because France has snobbed us for so long.



My worst museal crowd-moment ever was the last day of the Dali show in Philadelphia. Constant 5 rows of people in front of each work, and lots of pushing and agressivity. Most of the time I'm picky about my schedule and evitate the large museums on saturday and Sunday (in New York, I'd go to Brooklyn Museum or Dia beacon on a Sunday. Never the Moma.)

Maybe you could prepare a card on the door saying "today we open at 2pm" and take the next weekday morning for your museum? Or switch hours? (today your partner has a day off, tomorrow it's you)


Sometimes you can achieve the same results by working less. Twitter dealing? ("hey, I'm at the Met right now? What work you want to buy?")


Cedric C

10/12/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

If you go to the gallery with the Mona Lisa, even on a quiet day there are crows of people surrounding the picture, which is encased in thick plexiglass, with murmurs and talking in lots of languages, whiffs of perfume, B.O., flip flops, short shorts and sweaty bad breath. There are incessant photo flashes going off from the crowd - like Paparazzi having found a popular celebrity walking by - the guards having long ago given up policing this unruly mess, and are now merely content to contain it. If you are brave and persistent, you will be able to get within a few feet of the humble painting with only a inch or two of Plexiglas, with flash reflections blinding it every few seconds between you and it.

THIS is the Louvre.

The Parisians, I found, love to live in tiny little philosophical constructions in their head, the reality around them be damned, and when it is punctured with a jarring fact or change, they get downright upset. And why not? The world isn't meeting expectations anymore.

The Louvre the art historian loved died a long time ago, whether it is economic reality, growth or whatever else we can analyze, McDonald's is a commentary of where they are rather than a catalyst of change as the person feared.

Let me stop my Juvenal-esque rant for a moment, and note that there are sections of the Louve, that are conducive to silence, amongst the lesser known works and histories. Just like the basement of the Vatican's Ancient Roman Art and statuary (hardly anyone goes there ... you can spend tons of quiet contemplative time and feel like you snuck into a museum's storage rooms). The superstar artworks will never allow the quiet contemplation that they deserve, but their equally skilled but lesser known cousins get the observation and thought they deserve.

10/12/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Set up private viewing spaces (no closed doors, guards in plain sight), rotate works in and out on a published schedule (reservations available), and sell five-minute blocks of time (buy an hour's worth if you want to). Have at least one free space where low income people can sign up for specific days and works, and win five-minute blocks awarded by a lottery system.

10/12/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Undoubtedly the combination of higher costs and less financial support has sent these institutions scrambling. But McDonalds at the Louvre is as bad as motogrycles at the Guggenheim--or for that matter,Guggenheims sprouting up in as many places as McDonalds.

As an artist looking for quiet viewing, I have evolved some strategies:
. Visit the popular sites in the really off times (late evening on a night when the museums are open late, like at the Louvre)
. Go by yourself, as it's easier to slip in and out among the crowd, to dart over to a clear view of a painting
. Those 15-minute viewing sessons? Stay behind. At the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, I slipped behind the altar while my group exited. I had a glorious few minutes alone to view the work. I mingled with the next group and then did the same thing. Heaven
. There unescorted waves, too. In the Sistine Chapel, despite the hordes, occasionally there's a lull when you can almost have the place to yourself. But you have to be willing to wait it out.
. And of course Brent's suggestion is great. While the hordes are making the rounds of the "highlights" and "must see" works, there's a whole lot of other art to enjoy.

10/12/2009 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous nemastoma said...

Still, it is wonderful that people actually go to museums, crowded or not. Even a furtive glance at a Mona Lisa may affect the viewer for the better.

10/12/2009 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

"with murmurs
and talking
in lots of languages,
whiffs of perfume, B.O.,
flip flops,
short
shorts
and
sweaty bad breath."
said Brent.


Is that not who we are; what we have become; consumed whilst consuming. Joanne takes the path of the individual - seeking out hiding places to be able to look. That's the way things are & must be. Art as a consumer durable; sentences no longer than sound-bites & success a matter of head-counts & money in the till. McDo's is only a logical extension of what has already gone before & a presage of what is to come. The ivory towers have fallen a long time back - to be replaced by entertainment centres & fast-food & there is no way back except, of course, to hide out in secret places whilst the rest of humanity sweeps past.

10/12/2009 02:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Danielle said...

When inclusivity and accessibility are the goals, there will naturally be a resulting degradation of high standards. I'll add this to my mental list of life's disillusionments.

10/12/2009 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Wayne said...

I was in the Louvre a few weeks ago. The problem with this story that has been reprinted many places, is that it's not at all accurate. There is a mall between the Louvre subway station and the actual underground entrance (below the pyramid), called the Carrousel de Louvre. There are already things such as Esprit, Virgin megastore and soon an Apple store. So when the press writes about it, it should really say "near the Louvre" not "at the Louvre."

The museum experience was not as bad as you would imagine, using the automated ticket machine, the time in line was 2 minutes. Away from the 10 most famous pieces of art, there were plenty of quiet, empty spaces to look at wonderful things.

10/13/2009 02:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc said...

The 'McDonalds in the Louvre' story is a classic example of an inaccurate media storm in a teacup. BBC ran an interesting story a few days after the announcement, which shows how little the French press or people cared about this. After all the Louvre is already a franchise so it doesn't seem like such a bad match. On top of this, the story is inaccurate: as Wayne mentioned above, the McDonalds isn't actually in the Louvre itself but in the adjacent Carrousel which is an underground shopping mall, so sadly you won't have the pleasure of strolling past any da Vincis while chomping on a burger. I am far more concerned by the trend of museums churning out safe blockbuster shows that reveal little to no new art.

10/14/2009 08:43:00 AM  

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