It’s been a convention of long standing in the museum world that visitors should cover as much ground as possible, on foot. The economics of museums in the United States reinforce this syndrome. Many have come to rely on earned income, buildings and related operating costs have grown, results often are measured in attendance numbers, and visitors have to keep moving in order for the museum to achieve adequate “through-put.” And if you’ve paid a substantial amount to get in, you probably want to keep moving so you can see as much as possible.
But as recent posts suggest, people feel an opposite tug, a desire to slow down and savor their experiences. Two recent contributors mentioned their trepidation about visiting (separately) a Picasso exhibition. Anticipating long lines and an $18 admission fee (plus parking) and in one case even fearing a “claustrophobic” experience, they steeled themselves.
But as Mallory Martin wrote, “as I turned a corner sure that I had seen all there was to see and was about to exit the show, a photographic time-lapse of the various stages of Guernica was on display. It was here I sat and lingered and watched how the master that was Picasso took an expansive canvas and turned it into an evocative and timeless piece of art….at this moment I had received all that I needed from the show…a personal connection and moment introspection facilitated by a work of art.” The other reviewer, Winifred Kehl, noted the “many alluring seats” in this multimedia area that “probably drew many people eager for a sit-down.”
There’ve always been those who have insisted on offering people a place to sit down. British museologist Kenneth Hudson predicted before his death in 1999, in fact, that the museums that thrive in this century will be not only those with some special charm, but, quite simply, “those with chairs.”
You don’t need a costly multimedia presentation in order to offer a space for rest and reflection. The Field Museum’s Matt Matchuk told Kathy McLean and me that his museum had moved some overstuffed armchairs from a furniture rental company into their galleries and that visitors happily “plunk themselves down” to rest. (The photograph above is from Saralyn Rosenfield’s review of the Center for Creative Connections at the Dallas Museum of Art, which also offers places to sit.)
There’s more about seating and other comforts in our forthcoming book, The Convivial Museum, available from ASTC.