Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crowd sourcing

Art museums the world over have become obsessed with getting bums through the door. It’s turned out to be one of those ideas that makes sense right up to the minute it doesn't. Yes, be careful what you wish for. Anyone who has tried to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre or struggled through the crowds at MoMA or the Met knows that now the experience is often not worth the ticket price. Long queues to get in, longer queues to park your coat and bag if it’s Winter and then a constant crush on the stairs, in the corridors and lined up in front of the most famous works. It's crowds all the way down. 

Some museums have reacted to the avalanche of visitors by putting on time restrictions and others by limiting entry numbers but the best visitor strategy is to concentrate on works that aren’t on the greatest-hits list. When you speed walk (ok run) through the Vatican’s corridors to try to have the Sistine Chapel to yourself (we did it back in 1975 by following Georgina Masson's instructions in her classic guide to Rome but it may not be possible any more) you zoom past Raphael’s masterpiece The School of Athens in a room that rarely has more than a few people in it while the Chapel itself is quickly packed with craners. It's the same in Paris where the Mona Lisa shares space with da Vinci's beautiful but not as famous and therefore not as crowded Madonna of the rocks. 

In all the competition over increasing attendance numbers the irony of the next few years may well turn out to be instead how to let fewer people into the building. 
 Image: Crowds at MoMA