Now that it’s been settled in its new location for almost a year, the Barnes Foundation is getting comfortable and raising ticket prices — which wouldn’t really be newsworthy if it weren’t for the reason they’re providing for the change. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the museum is overcrowded and lots of visitors don’t know how to behave. Barnes President Derek Gillman offered these choice words:
“We’re seeing many more people not familiar … with what is proper behavior.” He added that the gallery wanted those additional visitors, but with new gallerygoers “we’re seeing more transgressions of people touching things and getting too close” to the art, he said.
Popularity’s a bitch, ain’t it?
The new ticket price for adults, up to $22 from $18, now includes the audio guide, which tells visitors not to touch or get too close to the art. Another Inquirer article reports that Gillman himself will be heard on the guide, “accompanied by chamber music,” saying: “Please don’t sit on any of the chairs in the room. That’s what the benches are for.” So in theory, most people will now get the audio guide and be lulled into obedience. In practice, it sort of looks the museum is raising prices to stave off the masses.
POLICE VISITOR BEHAVIOR WITH SOOTHING CHAMBER MUSIC AND PATRICIAN ACCENTS. ENLIGHTEN THE MASSES IN OBEDIENT WORSHIP AT THE ALTAR OF HIGH CULTURE AND FANCY CHAIRS.
Is this a museum, or a fucking finishing school? Barnes Foundation, you sure know how to make me want to touch all teh art.
While I think it’s kind of nuts to pay $22 for a ticket, I don’t think this is a matter of forcing people into “worshipping” the art. The chairs aren’t meant to be sat on, they’re part of the collection. Visitors must be pretty unobservant if they haven’t figured that out, seeing as there’s a LINE DRAWN ON THE FLOOR. And while some might think that’s some sort of bar keeping us from being close to the art, at least it’s not glass or a rope or something like that. You can still get pretty damn close. I feel very strongly about people respecting art for its handcraft and its age. This stuff is fragile. I don’t go touching someone’s oil painting that was made yesterday just like I don’t touch someone’s oil painting from 100 years ago because it’s common sense.
Not that I think raising ticket prices was the change needed, but the place certainly gets crowded, and during my time working there I saw plenty of people ignoring the museum security and whipping their bags/limbs around like they were at a fun house. It just seems to me like everyone always needs something to complain about, especially with the Barnes.
And lemme learn ya something: the Barnes Foundation IS A SCHOOL. LITERALLY. Albert Barnes’s collection was created as a mode of art education. Let’s read up before we launch attacks, please.
Cool, so I’ll cut the ALL CAPS shtick for a second. My complaint (and I do so love to find things to complain about, it’s basically my entire blog!) has less to do with the sincere impulse to protect works of art and more to do with how we talk to museum visitors. I think museums exist to serve our visiting communities, with collections as a secondary (though deeply connected) priority. I work with and respect a lot of people who disagree. But how would we speak differently to visitors about in-museum behaviors if we viewed them — and really internalized the view — as stakeholders rather than lucky intruders?
And why can’t museums be more like fun houses? Lotsa reasons, probably. But those behaviors that museum professionals often regard as “common sense” correspond to an artificial — if not entirely without value — set of rules about appreciating art or historical artifacts, We view these things from a distance, we expect quiet and guards and DO NOT TOUCH signs. Mainstream cultural institutions have historically enforced these behaviors as a means of privileging certain folks and elevating elite culture, while excluding or alienating others.
The Barnes’ language quoted above is familiar language of condescension and correction. It admonishes visitors — assuming that they are woefully unobservant or reckless — rather than examining what it is about the layout of the galleries, or the attitude of staff, or the nature of the institution — that causes so many people to behave so “wrongly.” Relatedly, hiking admission prices to $22 (admittedly pretty comparable to many big urban museums) bugs me in this context. It implies to me that there is a certain class of visitors who are the trouble-makers, and that by raising barriers to their entry, peace in the temple of high culture might be restored. On all these fronts, the message to folks who may not regularly visit museums or who can’t afford entry is that “this place — and important culture/history — do not belong to you.”
I love that you pushed back on this because it’s like my favorite tumblrversation topic. I rly rly want us young museum people to find ways to preserve art so we can all enjoy it, question its value and interpretation, be inspired, be puzzled, whine and criticize. But I want those ways not to assume our own institutional authority and visitor ignorance, despite daily frustrations.
Finally, I’m psyched that you worked at the Barnes. I did indeed know that it is a school, plus I just read a bunch more about it on Wikipedia! It is not, however, a finishing school. That was a just a dumb jab at my loathing of proper etiquette.