All public art museums crave to attract more people through their doors. Attendances often determine how much sun will shine on them from their funders who in NZ's case are mostly local and regional authorities. Take Auckland Art Gallery for instance. Its council ‘owner’ Robert Domm, the chief executive of Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA), is focussed on the Gallery “enhancing its commercial performance” and that aspiration is a very powerful shaping idea. But, be careful what you wish for. We found our visit to the Museum of Modern Art dispiriting. Commercially successful? No doubt but by pulling in the crowds MoMA has sacrificed what you'd have thought were two of its most important roles; the protection of works of art and the protection of the experience of those works of art.
Hundreds of people rushed through the galleries brushing against paintings, jostling for position in front of famous works and suddenly stopping dead or lurching away as the audio guide spun them round. The guards had all but given up in the face of such crowds only occasionally calling “no flash” if only to prove they even existed. Wow. Meanwhile down the road the sexy fashion brand Abercrombie & Fitch kept eager punters waiting in a line outside its Manhattan flagship store until there was space for them to properly enjoy the store. The priority of A&F (like the Barnes collection in Philadelphia) is the experience once you get inside and that's what they protect. MoMA's priority seems to be to take the money and run. Their approach to what the crowds get as an experience (or rather non-experience) at thirty bucks a head? Not our problem.
Images: top left, crowds form at the ticket office and right, they’re off, the rush to the ‘best’ galleries. Middle, six deep at audio tour stops and bottom, shadow play delivers Douglas Gordon’s poignant video Play dead; real time straight back to the circus.