Trip Report - The Guggenheim and the Met

I went to the Guggenheim and the Met for my two art galleries. The Guggenheim unfortunately was cut short; a new exhibit was being installed to open on Oct 10 so only a few galleries were open, but I still got some interesting observations.

The Guggenheim

What really caught my attention about the Guggenheim was howloud the museum was. Most art museums and galleries I’ve seen have been relatively quietly, so this was a surprise – I attribute it to having all visitors confined to a few galleries but still! People were marching along the walls of the gallery in a messy queue, which dictated navigation for the most part. There were three types of behaviors: people who were there to soak in the art (these were relatively few given the crowds), people who stood in front of the painting listening to their audio tour guides, and people who were discussing the art with. The audio tour guide listeners threw the slow marching line off because they would stand right in front of the art and not move at all; other visitors were forced to go around them or wedge their way through in order to see the art. There wasn’t much of a chance to really take it all in.

The galleries were all essentially the same in terms of their design: white walls, marble floors, and minimal captions. The idea was to let the art speak for itself I suppose but most of the art was unfamiliar to me. What I could recognize I enjoyed, but I think if you wanted to learn more about the art that you had to rely on the audio guide to do so. Not sure if that’s the best solution but having seen seemingly never ending captions this was okay for me.

It’s hard to come to a conclusion of what experiencing the Guggenheim is really like because I think these were unusual circumstances, so I may have to go back at another time. However, I will say that based on how long the audio tour followers were standing in front of a painting that there’s probably an opportunity for redesign there to prevent the blockages they were causing.

The Met

I didn’t remember I’d been to the Met when I was in high school, but even after I entered I was still gaping at the sheer size of the entry much like I did at AMNH. But if I had to sum up my experience there, I would say it was like all the problems I’d had at AMNH had been put on steroids. The Met is so massive and impossible to navigate that I had to stare at the map several times to even understand what was going on. Whoever designed the map needs to get a design review because making heads or tails of it was a struggle. The Met is a museum where I desperately wished for a mobile map that could help me track where I was going (there is an iOS third party library that does something like this) so that I could plan my time spent there better.

I went to a few of the galleries there, but the art gallery I went to was the European art one. I spent a lot of time there… but some of that was unintentional due to the inability to navigate. If I thought finding my way through the big exhibits was hard, the art gallery was a labyrinth. Unlike the Guggenheim, this galleries walls were painted varying shades of dark grey – it was as if the designer had attempted to get the same shade across all the rooms but ended up getting a few cans that were just slightly off. This did highlight the frames very nicely and bring the colors out, whereas the white walls of the Guggenheim almost dulled the paintings. The gallery for the most part was very quiet and had benches in most every room for visitors to sit and relax in. I myself felt a bit more relaxed with the quieter setting, but as more people filed into the gallery the noise level increased significantly which took away a little from my experience.

Something that I noticed in one of the rooms was that a few paintings had iPads next to them with video playlists pulled up. I wonder if that was an attempt to encourage visitor engagement as I don’t think there’s an audio tour, but I also question having something like that in an art gallery where it’s not meant to be too noisy. In any case, one of the iPads I saw had somehow been messed with; someone had managed to navigate away from the museum’s app and into the Clock app, but you couldn’t navigate away because the iPad was locked into the stand. Whoops!

The Met didn’t seem to have a ton of kids running around, but I was surprised by the amount of toddlers and babies there. I suppose it makes sense because the Met felt like ‘an adult museum’ – where NYSCI and AMNH invite kids to tinker or dream about other places, the Met is at its worst a curated warehouse of items with big long captions at a height that isn’t kid friendly at all (at it’s best it’s a very long walking tour full of interesting objects). Toddler and kids on the other hand get driven around in strollers or carried by adults who take in the art. But I think that ultimately the Met is very unsuccessful in that it has way too many things to show at times. For example, the Egypt exhibit was tedious to me. I love history, but navigating through endless shelves of what seemed like the same artifact over and over again was not pleasant. The art gallery in particular was another offender, but I think what exacerbated my frustration with it was the lack of context. I was looking at all these beautiful pieces, but there was nothing to tell me about the era. I could make guesses from the subjects of the art itself, but that’s not a good way to gauge what life was like when these pieces were created.

The Met does do a nice job of trying to build the exhibit environment to be immersive. The Roman Art and some of the surrounding areas do a good job of trying to create an immersive environment with some of their interior design choices; the Roman one in particular stood out to me as a sharp contrast to the art exhibit and some of the bigger exhibits in that it made me feel like I was surrounded by beautiful art in an area that I wanted to be in – it was themed appropriately (it reminded me of a courtyard) but didn’t take away from the objects on display. My favorite part of the Met for me was the Arms and Armors exhibit – there are some incredible weapons on display and the work is just beautiful. I could stare at it for a long time, though it would eventually tire me out with how dim the lighting was in the side wings of the exhibit; the main hall was lucky to have a glass ceiling that let in a lot of natural light.

I would be terrified to go back to the Met because despite the nice points of it, the navigation issue is what I end up remembering the most vividly. The frustration and crowd dodging left a big impression. The lack of signage and the confusing map are big sore spots for me – when those get fixed, let me know and I’ll think about going back.