Museum Fall/Fail

An American (horrors) tripped at MoMA and tore a hole in Picasso's The Actor, possibly because of a raised floor barrier.

This reminded me of a couple museum stories of my own. Back at Yale (pause for Gaudeamus Igitur to play), I took the introduction to art history course taught by the marvelous and rightly legendary teacher and art thinker Vincent Scully. He has taught several decades of Elis how to understand art from a classical perspective that informs even the most post-modern of post-modern works. (Everything is a reaction to everything else.)

I recall him telling a story once about a painting that was so compelling that he said you were compelled to lean farther and farther into the painting, until you tripped the alarm, and large Samoan guards came and beat you to death. Surprised uproarious laughter. "It happened to me more than once," he said, to additional laughter.

In 2000, when Lynn and I went to a haphazardly organized reunion of the Yale Summer Program in Graphic Design in Brissago, Switzerland, we stayed in Basel, a great city for art, with hundreds of museums in the city and in nearby towns and across the borders of Germany and France. We went to the Kunstmuseum in Basel, an institution with a host of seminal works (a room of Picassos, Der Blaue Reiter painting that defined Der Blaue Reiter movement), and they had what I remember was a Cy Twombly exhibit of paintings and sculpture. This particular exhibit was mostly beige monochromatic, and occupied an entire floor.

Now, for security purposes, the museum had put security tape on the floor. Cross the tape, and a buzzer sounded. For unknown reasons, the museum had chosen to use a tape that was essentially the same color as the floor, and place the tape at irregular distances from the works being protected. Lynn and I walked around and continually, accidentally triggered the buzzers.

We were, I think, just about the only people besides the guards on the floor. The guards were understanding--this was happening constantly--and it turned into a joke. It was like an interactive audio experiment. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!

The last time I was the Louvre, I did not fall into the Mona Lisa. But I did notice that the famous painting was so heavily protected by glass and alarms that it was nearly impossible to see, in addition to the crush of people around it. Other Da Vinci masterpieces were nearby with no one looking at them, and no protection whatsoever.