Tuesday, April 25, 2006


It wasn’t so long ago that Museum of Fine Art employees told us 9/11 means you can’t stand in corners to look at photographs. It was an even shorter time ago we were told thirsty MFA moviegoers must stay thirsty — because revealing there’s a water fountain just around the corner is apparently not policy. And yesterday my backpack (and laptop) had to be checked in, while my friends’ purses didn’t.

I asked why, and the guard didn’t know. His manager did, though: 9/11. Again.

Bombs fit in backpacks, but not in purses, he told me. “I know,” he told me.

We were not actually at the museum to test whether we’d be irritated every time we went. We were there for the free Art in Bloom event. Foolishly, I spent $5 for the 36-page event guide, thinking somewhere in those 36 pages was some value. After all, there were 70 exhibits of flowers and art over two floors of giant museum, and it would be nice to get the inside story on what we were seeing.

Too bad the guide is worthless.

Just as an example, here’s the text on exhibit No. 48, flowers by the Chicatabot Garden Club’s Jean McCarthy and Linda Meanns of a painted relief of the judge Mehu in the old kingdom Egyptian wing:

This image is a fragment from a large relief depicting a fishing party on the Nile. Mehu is shown from the waist up, facing left, and wearing a long wig, short beard and collar. The colorful paint is well-preserved.

Fascinating, but a bit of a gloss on the material you find posted next to the painted relief of the judge Mehu, which goes like so:

This fragment from a fishing scene shows Mehu dressed in a short, formal beard and heavy wig. Standing in a papyrus skiff (see drawing), he holds a yellow painted harpoon with which he has speared some fish. The bright colors give a vivid impression of the original appearance of all Egyptian tomb wall painting. Two door jambs with images of Mehu and his wife, also from his tomb chapel (see photograph), are exhibited in the corridor adjacent to this gallery.

Information on the flowers? Not so much. Reasons to buy guide? None. Irritation at museum? Consistent.


Anonymous said...

And how was the exhibit?

Scape7 said...

Oh, the exhibit was fine. And fun. I enjoyed it. And the museum does have some wonderful paintings and such, which it is always nice to see. The institution just happens to exist within an irritating aura of entitlement that seems to cloud its vision, causing it to head off in strange and disappointing directions.

Someday Maybe said...

Totally with you on the irritating aura of entitlement. I've been going there more often lately. I manage to keep my bag with me because I bring a small messenger bag, and I'm female, so I don't have that to hold against them. But there's so much that's so wrong and unapproachable about it to someone like me.

Scape7 said...

I had to reread the posting to check whether I'd used the phrase "aura of entitlement" because it captures so well, at least in part, what I feel is wrong with the museum. I may even have typed those words and later deleted them, so you took the words right out of my mouth.

Someday Maybe said...

I did steal that from you, from your first comment. It so fits. I feel like if you're not a head of industry or a woman with a gray pageboy, hand-made brooch, cape and perfume, you're nothing to the MFA.

Anonymous said...

To weight in on the MFA issue, cultural entitlement is a structural logic. We chastise those above us on the cultural ladder and step on the fingers below us. George Carlins said something like, Why is it that those who drive slower than you are idiots and those that drive faster are maniacs? We feel the need to situate ourselves between the maniacs and idiots in a social context; hence, although we despise the arrogance of museum employees [I found the wax museum employees in Tijuana very nice however], we do the same thing in other social situations. Indie-music geeks at the Toad are just as snobby as the art-history undergrads that intern at the MFA. My point: pity those that emphasize their cultural entitlement in a public space. Call it karmic pity, but I always hope that some person [besides myself] is pitying me.

Scape7 said...

The "aura of entitlement" snafu has made me realize that I'm no longer getting all the e-mails notifying me comments have been posted. Odd: why some and not others?

Not that this little mystery excuses my forgetting that I did write about the AOE at the MFA. The real problem is that, as I've said before, I'm an idiot.

Onward …

Scape7 said...

On the more serious issues raised here about cultural entitlement, I'd suggest the anonymous commenter is giving the museum a little too much credit. We're not talking about unwitting breaches of politeness by art-history-grad volunteers; it's really policy set at the highest levels and carried out by people working in a tony environment where they're apparently not empowered to act sensibly or civilly — or intimidated into acting insensibly and rudely.

Policies should make sense, and the people enforcing them should understand them. If someone's thirsty, you help that person. Written or recorded guides to a museum should contribute to the understanding of those using (and buying) them.

I doubt these things reflect a hierarchy of snobbery instead of plain old paternalistic thoughtlessness.