Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Putting bums on seats

Next time you're leaning over a rope barrier in a public museum trying to read a label or peering up at that painting hung up near the ceiling, think of yourself as part of a long tradition. Back in the early 1900s Benjamin Gilman, the secretary of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for 32 years, had very strong views about how hard it was to see the objects that institutions put on display. His book Museum ideals of purpose and method became a blueprint for the modern museum. For instance, it was Gilman who put forward the idea of "easily movable seats" that would give visitors a chance to rest their aching legs although he was ahead of the game even on this. “We are at sea on the question of the best way to provide seats in a museum,” he noted in his chapter on Seats as a preventative from fatigue, “until we catch sight of the truth that their foremost office is not to restore from fatigue, but to prevent its advent.” Thanks Benjamin.
Images: posed photographs from Benjamin Gilman’s book showing the difficulties faced by museum visitors. You can download Museum Ideals of purpose and method here.