Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Strolling along in a gallery (rage)

I was reading an article on the Guardian website about art exhibitions in London and overcrowded they get to be.
I got to the point of reading about how National Gallery is limiting access to an exhibition to combat "gallery rage" and the author not agreeing with it as it doesn't recognise such term.
"Art lovers on the whole are terribly polite. I didn't witness any rage at Gauguin, just a weary shuffling around, and a good deal of apologising to people you'd just trodden on or accidentally barged out of the way. The real rage is prompted by people whose mobiles go off and who insist on talking on the damn things despite all appeals not to. The crowds are just put down to gallery greed and accepted with a kind of weary "we're all in this together" shrug"
At that point something inside me did click and, yes, I do recognise that term and the meaning behind it.
I even have a picture for it in my mind:

bisogno di ferie?

This is my friend Diego, photographer and musician extraodinaire, close to a nervous breakdown in the Musee d'Orsay: we went to Paris for a short holiday two years ago and at the Orsay we had a quite tough time.
People all around us were busy taking pictures of the painting in the rooms. They would shove us in order to get in front of the painting and flash! Here is a nice picture to take home... just like the girl behind Diego was doing.

Maybe I'm (too) old-fashioned, but to me going to a museum means cutting some time all for me to enjoy. 
I turn off the mobile, put the lens cap over the camera and just spend time strolling along the exhibition, stopping at my favourite paintings, going back more than one time to see one sculpture, sit in front of a painting trying to see it in its wholeness. The rooms can be crowded as high street on Boxing Day, but I try my best to isolate myself and just enjoy the exhibition.

But it's really hard to do so, as I seem to follow or be followed by people that need to talk to somebody urgently about their latest haircut, as it happened to me last week at Anne Frank's house; or some years ago, in the memorial site for the Massacre of Nanjing, where a guy spend 10 minutes shouting around how cool was the movie he saw the previous evening.

As for photography, honestly I understand it even less. At Van Gogh's Museum in Amsterdam, photography is forbidden, yet the guards were running back and forth to ask people to please please please stop taking photography.
So I guess that guy with the Man United t-shirt must have felt quite smug when he managed to sneakily use his iPhone to take a shot of the "Self-portrait with felt hat".

I was irritated, but what upset me the most wasn't the fact he disturbed me with his phone snapping away, or the fact he didn't follow the rules (as it seems most of the people don't anyway and yet they always turn out fine). What annoyed me the most is that I didn't get him. I wish I had the guts to ask him what I always wanted to ask to people like him.

I wish I could take to one side, sit with him and let my doubts go:
"Why? Why do you want to take a picture of a painting? Of this painting above all the others? You have the chance to stare right into Vincent's eyes: no filters, no pc screen or printed page as media for them, just you and him.
Vincent's eyes never change, do you know it? Take a look at this and any other self-portraits he ever painted and you'll notice it straight away. There are so many ways you can loose yourself, but not a better one than being captivated by these pools of desperation, longing and above all love that Vincent's eyes are. You can spend a minute or a lifetime wondering why none of his contemporary ever saw this in his paintings, when it's so clear!
Do you know that I cry every time I look at him? It's not sadness, it's not joy, I cry because I'm overwhelmed by feeling, it's all about feeling alive, breathing the life that revolves around me. Yet, you'd rather take a photo. Explain it to me, please make me understand! How some pixel stored in your photo library are better than having Van Gogh looking at your heart and soul?

So at the end gallery rage goes back to one of the most common type of rage one person can experience: the one that derives from not understanding. Maybe I wouldn't feel so upset if someone could explain these behaviours to me. Or (maybe) I'd feel even better if I could have taken that iPhone or that camera and happily jump on it and on the pictures stored on them. 

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