Going to Art Museums Is the Worst Right Now

Film still from Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1967 — which I'd rather look at than people taking selfies.
Film still from Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1967 — which I'd rather look at than people taking selfies. © 2016 The Andy Warhol Museum

Film still from Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1967 — which I'd rather look at than people taking selfies. - © 2016 THE ANDY WARHOL MUSEUM
Film still from Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1967 — which I'd rather look at than people taking selfies.
© 2016 The Andy Warhol Museum
Over the past year, I’ve visited several major art museums and galleries throughout the country: the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Menil Collection here in Houston. During those visits, I consistently encountered:

** Men and women fixing their hair in artworks with reflective glass (a framed photograph, for instance) or pieces featuring mirror-type materials;

** Which usually leads to a pose next to a Picasso or some other painting, silver gelatin photograph, drawing or mixed-media piece;

** All for the love of Selfie Nation and Insta.

Unless I want to leave the museum altogether, there’s literally nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And it has gotten really bad.

It apparently bears the question: If you go to get cultured and don’t post about getting cultured, are you really cultured? I’ve decided not to wait around for the answer.

That’s because instead of finding a favorite Paul Klee piece at the Art Institute or the so-called controversial Emmett Till painting currently on display at the Whitney Biennial 2017, which I had to leave early because of the humanity pile, I've found myself bolting to an area where a substandard drawing hangs to find a few seconds of respite.

Often, my favorite pieces in a show are the ones where nobody else is around. However, the Planet of the Apes-like throngs will eventually round the bend, armed with phones with faux-shutter-release sounds, and set up in front of a mixed-media piece, only to cock their heads into the shoegaze position to stare into their phones instead of the art on the wall.

This isn’t just a phenomenon for traveling or special exhibitions. At the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, I skipped “Monet: The Early Years” and instead tried to get through the focused, small-ish permanent collection. I didn’t really have a chance because of all the cackling scrums of zombies. Instead, I posted up near a fake plant that the museum staff had placed behind a movable wall because I had the area to myself.

It also doesn’t really matter the day of the week. At the Menil, the crowd on the Wednesday morning after Christmas was overstuffed with Selfie Nation and Instagram users, and roughly the same size as the Sunday when Andy Warhol’s Sunset screened for the final time.

I get it. Going to an art museum inside of contemporary space should encourage dialogue and social interaction and shouldn’t be a replica of a sit-down, formalized presentation found at a classical-music gig or theater production. However, drive-by art-viewing isn’t conducive to anything productive except for social-media opps.

Earlier this month, after another bummer gallery visit, I declared that I wouldn't be going to any museums, which I used to do as often as possible, for a long while. To fill the time, I told friends that I would now be getting into baseball, a sport that I liked a long time ago, but then started loathing because, well, it’s baseball, a “sport” that’s tailor-made for an audience from the year 1910.

After two weeks, it has turned into more than the joke of the week. The other night, I didn’t get to sleep until after 1:30 a.m. because I was watching the dramatic final innings of a rain-delayed game. Some might have even called the game art.

The next day, a friend asked why I was so tired. I told her, in annoying detail, about how the winning team almost blew the game at the end as well as my plans to catch some games in person. She was baffled by my new baseball “hobby.”

“Baseball is not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle,” I told her.

“I hate that you just said that,” she replied.

Not as much as I hate going to art museums.
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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen