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“Ask Me About The Art” At The Guggenheim

GuggI didn’t go to an art museum today — as I recommended yesterday — because I had other commitments. But I did go yesterday, arriving at the Guggenheim Museum about 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, late enough for me to imagine what it might be like today. It was delightful — full of people, but not so crowded that one couldn’t see the pictures.

On view was Picasso Black and White, and the show was definitely drawing a diverse as well as plentiful crowd. I heard several foreign languages being spoken and saw people of all ages and races. Picasso is always good for crowds, and this exhibit got good reviews. Michael Fitzgerald in The Wall Street Journal called it ” not only one of the most exquisitely beautiful exhibitions of modern art to appear in New York in recent years but also among the most intellectually engaging,” and Karen Rosenberg in The New York Times said it was “as eye-opening as it is elegant.” It was good to see that many people went beyond Picasso into the galleries filled with new acquisitions and a small show of Kandinsky works — they were full, too.

I stopped to ask one guard if he had to work today. Yes, he said. Did he mind? He gave me a strange, surprised look and say, definitely, no. He said he didn’t have to start untill 11 a.m., so it wouldn’t interfere with his plans for last night. How did others feel about working on a holiday? He said he had heard no complaints. Some people may well have grumbled, I’ll guess but I hope that they weren’t forced to work a holiday — and I hope the guard’s answer assuages RCA readers who’ve complained in comments that museum employees shouldn’t have to work holidays.

AskMeI stopped to talk with another guard because I was taken by the big button he was wearing, pictured here. “Ask Me About The Art,” it says. I’d not noticed them before, and he told me they were ”pretty new,” though he didn’t recall when they were passed out. He loved the buttons. An art history major, he said until he got a button, most people asked where the rest rooms were. Now, some people do ask him real questions about the art on view. Other museums might take the cue and get similar buttons (some may already have similar identifiers).

All in all, there was only one discouraging moment during my visit. One young man, eyeing a painting, couldn’t resist saying, so that all could hear. “Or, it’s a ‘Woman in a Chair’ — I thought it was a spider” to one of his mates, who snickered. He should have found the nice young guard I spoke to — who might have helped him out.

Photo credits: © Judith H. Dobrzynski










  1. Barbara Chalsma says

    The Huntington and the Norton Simon in Pasadena, Calif., are both closed on New Year’s Day. Perhaps neither museum can–or wants to–compete or contend with the congestion created by the million people whose main reasons for visiting Pasadena are the Rose Bowl parade and game. (The Norton Simon is prominent on national television during the parade; it is directly across from the TV cameras–the building with the huge rose temporarily place on its facade.)

    I highly prefer guards who are, at the very least, pleasant toward me rather than suspicious when I approach them. They are the face of all other employees of a museum. I remember, in particular, one enthusiastic guard at the Norton Simon who gave me all sorts of information I would never have known to ask for.

  2. Allow me to come to the defense of the young man whose remark you found “discouraging.” He may have violated accepted museum etiquette in voicing his response to Picasso’s “Woman Sitting in a Chair (Dora)”—if that is the work in question (I haven’t been yet)—so that all nearby could hear, but I find his spontaneous unedited response encouraging. He is the proverbial “ordinary person,” very likely not a member of the artworld public that reveres everything Picasso. He clearly didn’t like the painting and was making fun of it (and Picasso). He may have even found it disturbing in a psychological sense. (On this, see Louis Sass, ‘Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Art, Literature, and Thought’ – 1992.) I can’t know for sure, of course. Asking the guard, an official representative of the museum, would not have helped at all, however. (See link to the Picasso painting below.)

    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts) and Co-Author, ‘What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand’ (2000) / Picasso painting:

    • That’s not the painting he was mocking. But I don’t have an image of the actual one. I am not sure the guard would have provided an official answer at all. He said, after all, that he had a degree in art history, not that he was parroting some guidelines given to him (though I am sure the museum provided those as well).

      • A recent degree in art history virtually guarantees that any help the guard might have offered would have been in sync with the Guggenheim’s “official” guidelines. Even if he did hold a contrary opinion, it’s unlikely that he would have openly voiced it. (I did get to see the exhibition before it closed, by the way. The painting I cite sure does resemble a spider in some respects! I must not have thought that about the one in question.)

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