the impression that i get

Somehow I missed that the Museum of Fine Arts Houston had an exhibit called Impressionist & Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from The National Gallery of Art. It had been there for an entire month and I had no idea, but time was running out, as the exhibit would close on the 22nd. I was going to take Hanley there on Friday, but she hadn’t napped all day and was teetering on the brink of a breakdown. We went out for coffee, instead, whereupon she immediately fell asleep in my lap and I read blogs in my iPad for an hour. That was kind of nice, actually.

H fell asleep during our coffee date. I'm trying not to ... on Twitpic

The exhibit slipped my mind on Saturday, which that left Sunday to see it, so I hightailed it to the Museum District Sunday afternoon. I don’t know why I thought I could just go in and view the art. The museum charges admission, and it was a special exhibit, so of course I had to buy a ticket. Of course the line was horrendously long. And of course there was only one person working at the ticket counter. I kicked myself for not planning ahead and buying a ticket online before I left the house. How dare I be spontaneous? Imbecile! After a half hour in line the weary woman behind the ticket counter finally informed me that the next available time to view the Impressionist exhibit was at 4:30 pm, which meant I had to wait an hour. How annoying. She let me know that the exhibit had been extended another day. Coming back the next day was tempting, but I’d just stood in line for a half hour. I’d already invested too much time in my effort to see great art. Onward and upward. I took the 4:30 pm ticket and set off to explore the museum.

I was admiring a case teeming with miniature porcelain figures when my back pocket vibrated. I extracted my phone to see that I’d just received a text message. I typed a return note and hit send. Just then a docent swooped in out of nowhere and hissed, “Sir, you can’t take photos in the museum!” I jumped, as she had scared the crap out of me, and almost dropped my iPhone. Nothing pisses me off more than being accused of something I wasn’t doing. I explained, “I was sending a text message.” The docent nodded blithely, as if she’d heard that one before, and said, “I’m just letting you know you can’t take photos.” I felt like saying, “Sure I can!” and snapping a round of photos right in front of her, but I just said, “Thanks for tainting my museum experience, rude woman,” and walked away. I could’ve shrugged it off and enjoyed looking at the art, but it happened again two more times. Just because I had my phone in my hand I was apparently photographing left and right without even aiming its viewfinder at anything or hitting any buttons. And for what, exactly? Why shouldn’t the art be photographed? I tried asking one of my accusers, but he could only say, “Because it’s against the rules of the museum.” “But why is it against the rules?” “It’s a private collection.” “Then maybe they shouldn’t load it to a public museum. Not that I am or want to, but I’m wondering why it’s against the rules to take pictures?” “Because you can’t.” Annoying. If I were a docent, I’d at least find out why it’s against the rules, so when people asked I could give them a real answer.

The place was teeming with people. I did my best to get lost in the art. There was some excellent art to get lost in, too. I’m not a fan of what I call Gilt Frame art, which are centuries old paintings of Biblical scenes, landscapes, or monarchy figures, almost always in a hugely ornate gilt frame. Not my style. But once I found the more contemporary works–Jackson Pollack, Joan Miro, Robery Motherwell, Jasper Johns, Franz Kline–then I could lose myself in the moment.

I felt the same way once I was finally admitted to see the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists exhibit. While it was annoying to be bumped into by people, hear their cell phones ring (I turned my sound off the minute I went in the museum. Why don’t you?), and to have to jockey for space in front of the paintings to view them, the works of art themselves were impressive enough to transport me to Monet’s lily pond, backstage with Dagas’ dancers, or in one of Cassatt’s cozy blue chairs. I guess I’m spoiled by the Menil Collection where you can experience art at your own pace and it’s a quiet environment, free, and accessible to everyone. Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait seemed to say, Dude, believe me, I understand. I feel your pain. These people are driving me nuts, too. But it was astounding to see in person works of art I’d seen all my life in pictures. Well worth the hassle and annoyance.


About timothyjlambert

Timothy J. Lambert is allegedly a writer.
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6 Responses to the impression that i get

  1. Becky says:

    I hadn’t even realized you’d posted this when I referenced your visit in a post of mine today. Went back and linked to your blog.

    Weekend visits to MFAH can be torture, especially for special exhibits–so many people! Free Thursday nights can be busy, too. When we were members (i.e., when I had more income), I could go during the slow times to visit my favorites–particularly Pollock! But I remember taking Jess on Thursday nights ’cause it was free. I wonder if he remembers?

    But yeah, these experiences remind me why the Menil is such a gem.

  2. Amy says:

    your questioning of the usher at the museum sounds oddly like conversations i’ve read about with a certain young person… i feel like i’ve asking more questions lately, especially with people in charge of silly things, or accusing me of things… rock on! glad it was worth your while:)

  3. Marika says:

    FINALLY! My career as a docent guide comes to good use! I can tell you at least one of the reasons why — GIFT SHOP! When I worked at the little County Museum in Illinois, we did not allow photos either, there were concerns about how flash photography might harm certain pieces, but the big reason is that we had postcards of the permanent exhibits for sale ($1.00 each ) in the gift shop. We were a small museum and selling the few things we had really added up … especially when donations were down. I would imagine that bigger museums can charge more and have different items on sale.

    Having said that, docents should never be rude, you are the gatekeeper to the museum … and what people think of the museum, the exhibit, or even about the subject in general depends on you. I worked in a history museum, and I would like to think that maybe something I said in a tour inspired someone to like history a little bit more. It’s a big responsibility, and whether a museum employee or volunteer you are representing something larger then yourself and need to remember that.

  4. Marika says:

    PS … here is my museum

    it was only the Clark Norris home when I worked there … 4 floors of prairie greatness.

  5. Mark says:

    I’m with JP Sartre when it comes to other people.

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