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Angry Reacts Only: Museum Spaces and the Politics of Viewing

by Aimée Tian

A how to guide on acting like a decent human being in a gallery space.

Graphic by the author herself (modeled after the book series).

Museum visits can be quite the excursion. Beyond the stress-inducing decision of what to wear - so that you fit in, but don’t quite look like an angsty/generic American Apparel bot (RIP) - it can be difficult trying to figure out an appropriate system of self-governance. In this highly institutionalized space of ‘high culture’ (whatever that means), the lines of what to say, or how to behave can get blurry.

Below is a list of loosely compiled suggestions, otherwise known as “Just Some Things That Piss Me Off”:

1. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Unless stated otherwise, the gallery is not a zoo. 

2. Museums tend to cost money. Don’t stand there with your Birkin bag yelling at the employees about the ticket prices if this is an issue. Many spaces offer pay-as-you-can-type models once a week or once a month. Come back then if you need to. 

3. The materials used are listed on the wall label. For the love of God, refrain from touching, poking, scratching, or heavy breathing on the works. Is this really necessary? 

4. If you start to get that uncontrollable itch, refer to the above and please keep your finger grease to yourself. Art conservators worldwide are weeping in shame. 

5. Stop trying to start public spats between you and other visitors and/or the artwork. Why you so mad? 

6. The benches ARE NOT FOR NAPPING. Stop it. Take that behaviour back to your local university library. 

7. You don’t need to pretend to ‘understand’ everything that is on display. Nor do you need to ‘like’ everything. It’s okay to admit confusion once in a while. 

8. If there are ropes/wires/tape markings installed in front of the works, they are there for a reason. The painting is not going to suddenly look drastically different from the other side of the partition. 

9. Remember the personal bubble? Let’s bring that back. I didn’t come here to feel your condensation on the back of my neck. 

10. On the contrary, if someone is clearly trying to look at the same work as you, be accommodating and don’t incessantly loom your head in front of their field of vision. 

11. Dear visitors who feel it necessary to have full blown, fifteen-minute long photoshoots in front of artworks - please adjust your timing accordingly if a room begins to fill up. The rest of us came here to see the art, not you in front of the art. 

12. Stop getting mad at small children in museums. Respect is learned, and it is up to the responsibility of the guardian to encourage this. Drop a friendly hint if need be. 

13. Leave your selfie sticks at home, for everyone’s sake. They’re hazardous to our health. 

14. There is no reason to scream out your opinion on literally every single piece of art you encounter. No one asked. 

15. Comments like ‘I could have done that’, or ‘This looks like the work of a five-year-old!’ are really getting quite old and totally unnecessary. Please refer to the following Damrauer print:

Craig Damrauer, Modern Art, from New Math, A Series of Modern Equations (project with 20 x 200), 2010. via https://store.hugomichellgallery.com/products/modern-art-tea-towel

16. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Stop taking this article so seriously. After all, what do I know?

———

A note to the readers: 

You may be wondering, ‘Did there really need to be an article written on this matter?’

The answer is yes.

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