Monday, April 07, 2008

Museum of Failure

We were in New York City this weekend. It was action-packed, and practically everything we did is going to make it onto this blog by the time I'm through. But first up must be our visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

I have a little history with the Whitney. I worked there when I first moved to New York. They hired me to be webmaster, which even I thought was ludicrous, as I didn't even know how to write html. I was fired without explanation four half-days later, and, my head spinning, went back home and crawled into bed.

A few years later, I got to know the Whitney much better, when I worked for their software provider. I got to know the collection and some of the staff, and I figured out just what the eff happened when I got hired/fired. Got rid of the chip on my shoulder. But I still never went there very often - the permanent collection is kind of small and you can get to know it pretty quickly. It's an artists' museum, and I'm no artist. Always tried to get to the Biennial though. There was always something interesting that I wanted to see.

Like this year. This year I wanted to see the Fritz Haeg Animal Estates, animal homes installed at the museum. So our first stop this weekend was The Whitney Museum of American Art.

Waiting in line to get in, we saw the gigantic eagle's nest above the entrance. It's not that easy to get kids pumped up about visiting a contemporary art museum, but a two-ton, nine-foot eagle's nest just might do it. I thought, "This is going to be great!".

And then, as we hunkered down to regard the first piece we came to inside the museum, a crazy/fabulous Jason Rhoads factory/laboratory/tribute to Marilyn Chambers (and may I say, with regard to Jason Rhoads, it helps to have a six-year-old explain it to you), a guard came up to us.

"You can't do that," he says to Big Man.
"What can't he do?" I ask.
"The wall. He can't do that."
Big Man was standing against the wall so as to be out of the way. There were a lot of people there. I myself was actually leaning against the wall, to steady myself as I squatted.
"He can't touch the wall?"
"He can't do that."
"He can't touch THE WALL."
"No."
"Can he touch the floor? Would you like him to levitate?"

It was, as I said, crowded. But we were the stars of the museum. As soon as we entered each gallery, we had the undivided attention of each guard. Every time one of the children got within THREE FEET of an object, the guards started walking toward us purposefully.

I recognize that children can be unpredictable, badly behaved, spazzy. I recognize that the guards can't tell the difference between MY children, who know what "museum manners" are, and who walk around with their hands in their pockets, and OTHER PEOPLE's children, rabid little droolers who try to climb on everything.

BUT I have been in a LOT of museums in my time, and I have taken my children to a LOT of museums, and there are ways to do it and ways not to do it. See my next post, about the Guggenheim, also not my favorite museum but a joint which has finally figured out how to reconcile the presence of people with the presence of art.

"Museum of Failure," by the way, is an installation piece in the show by Ellen Harvey, which my children were warned away from.