Museum Free Day. We’ve all done it. And it can be amazing! Free access once a month to some amazing, one of a kind collections of art and history. But with that incredible access comes the masses, and not all of them actually care about what they’re seeing. So while you’re having a moment in front of your favorite Rothko, you may have to weave and dodge children, squeeze between lost tourists, and narrowly avoid a smartphone to the face.
Not too long ago, I attended MoMA’s free day while visiting New York, and it everything I expected, and...more. Too much more. Honestly, the museum was a madhouse. Lines snaked back and forth around the lobby, and crowds ebbed and flowed through the exhibits in a thick mob.
As I was pushed along, I watched a pretty blonde teenager lean up against Jo Baer’s Green in Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue (1964-65) for a selfie. I repeat, she leaned. On. The. Art. Being an art nerd and informed museum goer, I was fully aware that you don’t touch the art. They put signs literally everywhere. They make alarm triggers little fences around the art. They tape the areas off. These poor museums workers could not be more clear. It’s pretty much the one golden rule of going to a museum. Immediately after, I watched a child try to start climbing on Louise Nevelson Sky Cathedral, before a security guard pulled him off and sternly handed him to his mother. As you can imagine, I’m a little apprehensive at this point. This was my first time at MoMA, a place I’d always wanted to go, and it was being trashed! The art seemed almost incidentally there, as people ambled by it, taking a photo of each piece on the way.
So, feeling violated, I wandered of until I found a quiet corner, and took a little time in a small circular room at the end of a hallway that to my delight was filled with Agnes Martin’s work. The round, light filled room combined with the ethereal work of Martin made the space feel a little like church. In this one small offset of the museum, everyone was quiet and introspective. Almost every person who entered this space lingered, seemingly as entranced as the rest of us. After a little while here, I gathered my strength and went back out into the fray. Next, I found myself talking a mother and son in hushed tones in the Monet Water Lily room, feeling the same sense of peace. Now, I had a strategy. When at a Museum Free Day, the way to get through it is to seek out spaces that are naturally quiet and calm. Every museum has one of these, if you look. At MoMA, It was the Agnes Martin exhibit, and Monet’s Water Lily room. But with a little exploring, you can always find a quiet room in a museum, and often this is where the art can really make an impact.
I floated through the rest most my visit to MoMA feeling full on art for the next couple hours, and by the time I left, the crowds didn’t bother me so much, and I felt surprisingly calm after how my visit began. I later realized, there are a few simple rules that helped me through, and hopefully help other easily overwhelmed museum goers.
If you can, go early in the day before the crowds set in
Make a mental list of of what you want to see there. Museums can be exhausting when you spend the whole time lost!
If it gets to be too much, seek out a quiet, smaller exhibit, or a screening room. Sit in the dark or the quiet and breath.
Focus on what you’re seeing, not the idiots around you
Open up to art & have fun! It’s ok not to understand what you’re looking at, but if it makes you feel something, be open to that feeling.
Museum Free Days are amazing! They make it possible for thousands of people to go see art that they normally don’t have access to. But collectively, we have to try and remember to be aware and respectful of the art and of each other when we’re there. Know that if the art is good, then lots of people around you may be caught up in their feelings., and/or exhausted.