Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Do Visitors Do at Art Museums?

Lately, in my museum visits I've been paying attention to what visitors actually do when they're in those exhibits we work so hard on. Below, just a few photos from a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

So what do visitors do?

Mill around the entrance deciding what to do. A little additional signage could be helpful.

Read labels. But in the image below, this group gathered to read the label--but never stepped back to really look at the piece of art. Perhaps labels could encourage more looking. To artists and art historians that goes without saying, but not to everyone.

Crowd around famous works of art (in this case, Starry Night). This is usually accompanied by the taking of photos. Nina Simon's written a great post about photography in museums--and the reasons we should encourage it.

Visitors also seem to decide very quickly that some spaces are just pretty boring and not worth additional exploration. When I look at the above picture I feel like I should be making a dental appointment--this experience could be painful!

Listen to audio--in installations, in audioguides (MoMA's hefty admission was mitigated a bit by the free audio-guides) or on cellphones.

Seek out comfortable seating. This seating accompanies a design exhibit--but it also provided a much needed respite.

Talk to each other. My favorite comment was when a father, leaving the room with the Matisse, (several photos above), turned to his teenage son and said, with a huge smile across his face, "I never dreamed it was so big!" A wonderful demonstration of the power of seeing the real thing, and why people will still go to museums despite the web.

When was the last time you took a look at what people were doing in your museum?

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