I subscribe to another blog about museum audience research. Today’s entry was about emotion, and the power of museums to provoke emotion in their visitors. The people commenting are all folks who work in museums. I thought I’d share a few of their comments and ask for yours—Do you remember a visit to a museum that really impacted you? That made you feel something so intensively that you still carry it with you? Was there an object or story, or simply how something was physically presented, that just reached out and grabbed you? Or perhaps it was something beautiful that filled you with appreciation. Or something that served as an inspiration that you later transformed into your own manner of expression. I’d love to hear about it.
Here are some comments from the other blog:
“And then…there was Monet’s Les Nympheas [at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris]. It’s the first time I’ve ever really felt art. Felt it was speaking to me. Not like seeing art, or thinking about art, but felt that every single neuron was firing as soon as I turned the corner into that room. As if there was a hand that tangibly reached out to welcome me into a different world. It was respite and retreat in a way I’ve never experienced in a museum. The realization of everything I always hope museums could do but have never found to come together so perfectly as I experienced in that one moment. Music, marble benches, perfect diffused lighting. And the art…stunning. Now I understand why Monet’s individual water lilies paintings fetch tends of millions of dollars, and why it’s so wonderful that museums can keep the best of those for public enjoyment.” Part of James’ post that inspired others to comment (below).
“There is a silver spice box at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in Battery Park, NYC. Its body is roundish on its base. It was smuggled out of Europe by a Rabbi in his suitcase, hammered flat and hidden in the lining, to be hammered back into shape later on. I interned at MJH in the Spring of 2002, so it was already an emotionally charged time, but when the globe sculpture salvaged from Ground Zero came to Battery Park, similar in shape, and was visible from the Museum, the parallels between these two objects, both damaged and stronger as symbols of hope and faith and resilience just sort of overwhelmed me (still does)… and I later found I wasn’t the only one to have had this epiphany. A staff member overheard me discussing it while giving a tour, and pulled me aside later to tell me she’d been feeling the same way… I’m sure there were many others. Posted by: Carri Manchester
“Only once have I been brought to tears in a museum … in the immigration hall at Ellis Island. It was 10 years ago, so it may have changed, but there was a long exhibit of stacked luggage brought by immigrants from around the world. For me the experience was heightened by the echoes of visitors in the hall. It was one of those weird moments in life when I was totally alone, yet surrounded by tens of thousands of people – the “ghosts” of everyone who arrived in America via NYC. Even thinking about it now makes me shiver.” Posted by: Tom Reitz
“My biggest wow moment was seeing Picasso’s Guernica in person at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. The scale was just so large–and the imagery so moving. I had to sit down to gather it all in. Unfortunately, this also led to one of my biggest downers in a museum. While seated and transfixed on this masterpiece I was yelled at by a security guard and told to stand up and move along!” Posted by: Scott
I’ve worked in and visited a lot of museums. But I only truly remember a few exhibitions or objects that I’ve experienced. When I was in college a roommate hung a poster of Paul Gauguin’s painting of a Tahitian woman holding a mango on the wall. It was nice, it brought color into the dorm room. I graduated and forgot about the roommate and the poster. Several years later, when visiting the Baltimore Museum of Art, I was meandering through the Cone Collection gallery and was surprised by that painting. It was like running into an old friend, and did she look good! I felt like we could begin a deep conversation; after all, she knew all my college secrets. After seeing the real painting, I fell in love with it—something about the power of the real thing.
In the wall of pots at the Arizona State Museum there is one pot, an Anasazi mug, which was broken and then repaired with yucca fiber by an ancient Indian hand. Every time I look at it I wonder who made it, drank from it, and loved it enough to repair it. What stories were shared over a hot drink from this cup? It makes me think of all the cups of coffee and tea I’ve shared with friends and family and of the connections we have with different peoples who sometimes share similar traditions.
What objects and exhibits at museums have moved you? Feel free to share a moving museum experience you have had.