10 RULES FOR HAVING FUN AT A MUSEUM - NO, REALLY
by Armen Pandola
The Pompidou Center is an amazing place, a huge building with many levels and functions - it's a movie theatre, an art museum, a restaurant, a conference center, a music school, a boutique store and just a cool place.
Named after the French President who inaugurated the project in the late 1960s, the international competition for its design was fierce and the eventual winner, three unknown architects at the time, was as controversial as most cultural questions become in France. Remember, this is the place that rioted when Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring premiered here in 1913.
It was one of the first 'inside/out' or 'bowellism' buildings with all its services such as staircases, lifts, ductwork, electrical power conduits and water pipes on the outside, leaving an uncluttered space inside. All the building's 'bowels' are outside. For this reason, the street to rooftop escalator on the outside of the building in a glass tube is one of Paris' most popular spots to photograph Paris - look at a couple of my photos in the collage.
I was going there for the art - an exhibit of the work of Francis Bacon, the English modernist with a distinctive style. Later, after lunch, I returned to tour the extensive modern art collection of the Pompidou - its collection mirrors that of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
So, how can going to an art museum be fun? Here are my 'rules':
1. Don't try to see everything. There are some smaller museums (the Barnes in Philadelphia comes to mind) at which it is possible to have a good look at everything, but even there, it can be tiring.
2. Ignore Rule #1 if you want - this is your vacation and that means you can do whatever you want. Really. Nobody is watching - well, they probably are, but ignore them.
3. Prepare for 10 minutes before you spend 2 or 3 hours in a place. Before you go, take a look at the museum's website and its collection and see what interests you, then go there from the beginning. At a museum like the Louvre or the Met in NYC, this is a must.
4. Pick a winner. Every museum is broken into rooms or galleries. When you walk into one, go to the center of the room and look around. What 1 or 2 works of art appeal to you. Pick just 1 if you can. Then, ignore the rest and look at that painting or sculpture. Spend some time with it - look at it with your mind and heart.
5. Don't look at the labels. I can tell you that I have visited many museums and those little labels that strain your eyes to read will tell you nothing important or even useful about the painting. If you see a painting with 3 apples in it, I'd bet a few bucks that it is called, Three Apples or Trois Pommes de Terre. Many will end up being called 'Portrait of ___' and it usually is somebody you never heard of.
6. Ignore the painter's name. Most you won't know and those you do will not help you. There are people who know all the names of all the artists and that is all they know. Like that person described by Oscar Wilde who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
7. Appreciate that it can be very difficult to be simple. Some art, especially modern art, can look deceptively simple, prompting many to say - why is that art? I could have painted that. Maybe. Maybe you could have written the Harry Potter series too. Its author J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mother on welfare when she wrote the first one. Why didn't you? Anyway, no matter how simple it looks, do you like it? Why? If not, why are you wasting your time and ignoring Rule #4?
8. Ask yourself who you are. A curious person who wants to know all the ins and outs of a thing or one who takes things as they come? If very curious, maybe the audio guides invariably offered for a few dollars will be your cup of tea. It will give you the information you are curious about - BUT, it won't help you decide the big question - do I like it?
9. Don't take pictures of everything. Many people I see on vacation are not on vacation, their phones are. Be in the moment. When you turn a corner and see that incredible painting that draws you towards it like a magnet and makes you hold your breath like the first time you saw your lover - be in that moment. Most museums end in a shop where you can purchase a copy of most of the art on a postcard or in a book.
10. Cut yourself a break. Maybe two hours, certainly no more than three is all any rational person can take of looking at art, especially if you are following these rules and look intensely at only a few. Hours in the museum should be balanced by hours or days out of the museum while on vacation. Those who sit and stare at the passing crowd are appreciating the best art, the art of having fun.
And those are my rules. The break I took for lunch led me to Benoit, a Michelin starred restaurant (there are very few that earn a star). I had the fixed price lunch - so for about $40 I had pumpkin with chestnuts soup, plaice fish (a kind of flounder) with mushrooms and sauce and then savrin (pound cake) with Armagnac and chantilly. It was very, very simple - and delicious.