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Don't Stand Too Close to Me: Perpetuating Art's Inaccessibility



I don't like to use this blog to complain, but I'm about to regale you with a story from last week. It's a tale about an art lover and an art house and a clash of the two. There's nothing particularly bad or scary about this story, but the small offensive events from last week taught me something on a micro-level, and perpetuated the myth that art is inaccessible. I'm curious if you'll agree.


Here's how it all went down.


I was traveling, and while sitting for lunch, noticed a contemporary art museum across the street. Not one to pass up an art museum on a lunch break, I stopped in. In a stroke of good luck, the museum was free to the general public.


Head on in, they said. Here's a map! Enjoy yourself!


The central rotunda was an open-air space; all white with a voluptuous curving staircase that led from the first-floor restaurant and shop to the second-floor exhibits. Temporarily displayed at the top of the rotunda was an ethereal collection - magnetic, feminine, both light and dark. Large walls and wide spaces parsed with art beckoned to the interested patron. Entranced, I drew closer to the candy that hung at eye level around the first room.


I drew closer to the candy that hung at eye level around the first room. (Yes, I repeated myself.) Because while I was admiring the art from a distance that would allow my eyes to see it in the low gallery light, I was approached by a volunteer curator.

Please do not look that closely at the art.


I’m sorry, what?

I’m going to need you to view the art from an arm’s length distance.

Confused, I stepped back. I looked around the room to see what other patrons were doing, however sparse they numbered. I stepped back from the art.


Carefully, I glided into the second room.


Squinting to read the descriptive plaques next to the art, I was distracted by this “rule.” On some level, I was affronted by the fact that I felt I was a particularly respectful art patron; quiet, sincere. The art was beautiful and I was determined to move through.


Excuse me, you’re going to have to remove your backpack from your back and wear it on your shoulder.


I’m sorry, what?

When I turned, I learned they weren’t talking to me.

Oh, the poor woman with the backpack. My arms-length felt for her.


There’s a chance that if you swing the wrong way, you could knock down the art. It’s safer with your backpack on your shoulder.


Backpack woman walked away, confused. I would have been, too. But, then it was my turn again.


There’s a bottle of water in your purse.


It’s sealed.


Yes, but it poses a threat to the art.


Only if I take it out of my purse, open it, and spray it everywhere.


It was the last straw. I left the gallery after only two rooms.


It’s not every experience, every museum. I doubt it will happen again. But, what I felt is that it created a double standard. The doors were open to the public, touting free admission. The advertising said, “come on in! We want to share art with everyone!” Yet, the messaging on the inside was the complete opposite. Everything seemed to perpetuate the myth that art is meant to be inaccessible. I could speculate as to why, but it feels unfair to even try. My experience was that I was in a quiet gallery that presented no rules prior to entry; patrons were respectful and well-behaved. No one even hedged toward rude, let alone unruly. I could say that the gallery volunteers were simply doing a job, and I’m sure they were, but the artist in me felt otherwise, that there’s a way to handle such issues, and this was not the way.

What do you think of our little story? Did we overreact? Sound off below!




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I had a similar experience 30 some odd years ago with my friend and his brother (who is a painter). We were asked why we needed to get so close (we were admiring brushstrokes) and told to keep our distance. Then we were followed around. We were teen/20's, but not disruptive in any way. Bad vibes.

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Richard T. Hill
Richard T. Hill
Aug 17, 2022

;) I need to know where this museum was so that I can purposefully avoid it.

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