ball artwork

Can a Museum of Modern Art be Art itself?

The other title I was thinking of was: Unfriendly Gallery Attendant – Cultural or an Intentional Discourse or…

Have you ever been to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg Russia? Where you have to wear blue plastic bag over your shoes and there are gallery attendants (mostly ladies) wearing black suits in every room staring at you intently and following your every move. Barking at you if you are anywhere less than 1 meter away from the collection. I have been to several museums that have a similar standpoint in collection engagement as this, in Bratislava, Sofia etc. Most of which are museums with collections of classic art.

In most modern/post-modern art museums that I have been to, there are always fun or interesting things to do with the art. In many pieces, people are encouraged to engage with the art, intentionally. Get closer to the art, inspect, take pictures, admire, feel uncomfortable and many other things that usually takes you out of your comfort zone. Modern and Post Modern Art usually challenges the boundaries of current acceptable states, constraints of society or culture and so forth.

The very popular work by Duchamp ‘ Fountain’, for example. Making or turning an everyday object to art, in this case a urinal, I think breaks that boundary of beauty, or what is considered art.

There are installations that are completely conceptual and rely on Humans and their engagement, like Hirst’s Twins, where he had twins (different sets, in one day there is 2 sets of twins) seating side by side and having to wear and do the same things at the same time. I saw this a few years ago at the Tate.The twins were told to interact with the audience.You are welcome to talk to the twins, but both of them have to talk to you, they have to mirror each other all the time, even when they go to the toilet, they have to go from their seats together.

I have seen an artwork that is made out of badges and the gallery attendant encouraged me to take one of the badges, leaving the ‘painting’ with a hole. I have also taken part in art where the concept is for a  ‘usually mug-shot portrait artist’ to ask you to describe your first love even if you can’t remember exactly how they look like. They will then put that drawing on the wall and gradually visitors first loves fill up the wall, the piece is called ‘First Love’

Obviously there are artworks where you are encouraged to touch, go through even climb on.


Or this piece by Jesus Rafael Soto, Penetrable de Chicago, I saw and experience at the Art Institute Chicago, where the installation is hanging transparent filaments.  People are encouraged to go through to feel the changes of every movement.

Jesus Soto

You know however, with these types of art you must be encouraged by the human with authority to engage, otherwise you never know whether it is what the artist meant it to do. Right? As in: is that a bucket or is it art? Can you touch it or is it a piece because of the shadow that it cast, so as soon as you slightly move it it changes. These types of art also always makes you raise a question, challenges you to think and feel differently. It does to me anyway.

So after my visit to K20 and K21 in Duesseldorf, Germany here are my questions:

Is the whole museum a piece of artwork?

Because it seems to be challenging the current status of Modern Art Museum, where engagement are encouraged. Contrary to other Modern Art Museum, it seems this one it is imperative to make you feel thoroughly uncomfortable, by having angry and disapproving looking gallery attendant in every gallery follow you around everywhere, like you might be there to steal a 3 ton ball of steel.

ball artwork

There were a few artworks that we saw that I thought the artist might have intended more interaction with the audience but I am not comfortable enough to look closer, or even ask the gallery attendant. There were works where the artist clearly meant for audience to interact, such as a series of buttons on the floor that made various contraptions come to life, but the buttons were policed by a severe lady who issued stern reprimands to any who dared to try to engage with the piece by pressing the button. Even if you asked her to press the buttons for you, you got short shrift.


Apologies for the wobbly picture, I didn’t dare linger.

Are they trying to break the current status of Modern Art Museum? Is it transcending the boundary, a metaphor between Renaissance eastern block museums with Modern 21st Art Museum?

Have you been? What do you think?

kids in museum

Modern Art Museum & Children

A few weeks ago I went to the Kroller Muller museum in the Netherlands, with a friend of mine and her little girl (6 or 7yrs old I can’t remember). My friend loves art, however she has not been to an art museum or gallery in the last few years. As she wandered around the museum, the little girl seemed to be attached to me and followed me around.

In front of a painting I ask ‘What do you think this is?’ I thought – this looks like a whale’s tail. She said with great conviction “It is a cup!” when asked why she was so sure, explained “that is the handle and that is the cup”. When I said “It looks like a whale’s tail”, she looked at me like I was stupid and said ” No it is definitely a cup.” I actually thought it was probably not anything – just brush strokes or an abstract concept.

Whale tail or cup

We moved on and found a cabinet full of small black metal sculptures. Then she pointed at and object and said “See it is this cup! It is a cup” She pointed back and forth to the black chalice (cup) and to the painting. It was definitely a sculpture of a chalis. I read later on that it was the object the artist was drawing from. An older gentleman saw me, her, the painting, the cup, smiled and nodded at me. I smiled too. I thought – this is cool.

The Metal cup

The museum had a children’s trail that shows a close-up of a small part of a painting and encouraged them to go and find the real painting and answer a question. This one for example: What is the man looking at?

Trail cards

When we found the painting, it was a cubist piece, and the odd angles and 2 dimensional nature made it very hard to work out what the man was looking at. I thought – is he looking at the other’s man neck/ back?- I asked the girl whether she thinks the same, she said “No, he is not looking at that, this is his head sideways and he is looking at this, (pointing at the top of the left hand side of the painting), what ever it is”.


The gallery was reasonably quiet at that moment, but there was an elderly lady that was watching us intently, so intently I thought she didn’t like the girl pointing too closely at the painting. I ignored the stare and went to read the interpretation, and it said that it is an image of a storm. So she was right again those two men were looking at the storm from the harbour. I said ” hey you are right …”. The girl had already walked away to find the other paintings. As I followed her out the old lady smiled at me and went to have a closer look at the painting.

During our time together going around the museum the little girl and I were given a lot of strange looks, I don’t know whether they have not seen a kid in an art museum before or whether we just look strange in general. Haha!

Maybe it is because there are not many kids her age or younger in the museum. There are plenty outside the museum in the gardens but not in the museum itself. This is maybe because the fee to the museum is an extra to the park, maybe because it is too expensive or whatever. Or maybe they are still in the time where they think that modern art are not for children.Maybe it was just this particular museum or the people present that day. Because I have been to the Stad Museum in Amsterdam, it seems that they have similar attitude towards kids there to those at the Tate. I don’t know. But I somehow felt that the stares were not the kind ones, until the girl came up with clever answers obviously.

I don’t think I ever witnessed this in museums in England, or experienced it even when I brought along my 5 years old nephew to museums, he just blends in, no one minds, like Tincture of Museum said in her blog about the Kids in Museum award, children’s/family friendly museum programmes are thriving.

Have you been to a modern art museum with kids outside the UK? What were your experiences? Did you have a similar one to mine or was it like in the UK (where they are usually welcomed)?