Since returning from a vacation in Europe a few weeks ago, a longing to wander around art museums has been rekindled in me.
It’s not a new experience by any means. When I moved to Boston almost 23 years ago, I got a Museum of Fine Arts Boston membership and enjoyed spending days off looking at art exhibits.
Locally, I’ve visited Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the museums at Harvard, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Worcester Art Museum, the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, and the National Museum of Illustration in Newport, RI, among others. I’ve also had my share of visits to the many wonderful museums in New York City, around the country, and to some memorable ones in Europe.
Somewhere along the line, however, I slowly and quietly trailed off. I might blame that on an erratic work schedule, a more intense focus on doing my artwork, or a full day-to-day life naturally causing some interests to fall away. Or all of these things. Add to it that until very recently, I hadn’t had a regular dedicated day off for three years.
So what happened a few weeks ago in London that reignited my imagination about the museum experience? After meandering through the Tate Modern in London for several hours in an increasingly serene state, I began to notice how quiet it was even with many people around.
It appeared to me as if everyone else, although moving around, was just as absorbed in the visual environment as I was. Despite being a well-populated public venue, it required little of us but to view and feel.
I’m not a mind reader, and have no real idea what anyone else was experiencing. That’s just how the place felt to me: human, thoughtful, introspective. I immediately noted how seldom one feels free to inhabit those qualities in a public place. If you were going to succeed in doing it anywhere, then an art museum was probably a good bet.
The past two Saturdays (my now official day off), I’ve visited the Museum of Fine Arts Boston with a cautionary hope of finding that lovely floaty feeling. The first thing I observed is that it’s a bit less simple in my own city because I’m likely to run into people I know. It seems anonymity plays a role in that dreamy lost-in-the-art mood I’ve been craving. I did very much enjoy my time there, though. When I would go many years ago, I would make a day of it. That meant having a meal (or two) in the cafeteria, strolling through the courtyard or the Tenshin-en Garden, and exploring the book shop, too. On my two recent visits, I allowed the whole day for this, just in case.
My only disappointment with my recent MFA Boston experiences has to do with how some exhibits have been set up in passageways. It doesn’t register to most people passing by that they are in gallery space. Perhaps in London museum-goers would be more sensitive to this (I don’t know this, I’m merely guessing), but in Boston, not so much. With people mindlessly passing between you and the art, sometimes in loud conversation, it’s a challenge to lose yourself in the art in those hallway exhibits.
How often, or seldom, do you spend a day in an art museum? I’d be curious to know your thoughts about your experience.
Paula Ogier Artworks