Service of Museum Manners in New York and Paris

June 29th, 2023

Categories: Etiquette, Manners, Museum Manners, Museums, Tourists, Travel

Unusual to see the Louvre so empty.
“Winged Victory” at the Louvre and not a soul in sight. Spooky.

I’ve written about behavior at museums quite a lot from, for example, strangers who glom onto a private tour to busy bodies who interrupt a stranger’s conversation about an exhibit only to insert incorrect information. I also wrote about people who express their anger over personal matters by destroying art.

A friend shared the idea for this post after an afternoon at one of her favorite NYC museums. She wrote: “Real lack of decorum at the museum: People noisily chatting, taking selfies, reaching over others to take pics, blocking paintings.”

I couldn’t agree more with her frustration.

Children waiting to visit L’Orangerie in Paris

This is not just a NYC thing. In fact, I found museum manners of tourists even worse in Paris. The most blatant example was at the Louvre. Because French President Macron was greeting dignitaries from Naples for the opening of the Capodimonte National Museum exhibit the day of my timed ticket, my scheduled arrival was moved first to 1:30 and at the last minute to 2:00 p.m. Our group was the first one in the museum that day so it was shockingly empty. I figured why not say hello to the “Mona Lisa,” known in France as Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Jaconde.”

This class of little ones waited quietly to get enter the Rodin Museum, Paris.

The room that housed her picture was set up for a huge line but there were only a dozen tourists there when I arrived. Were they looking at one of the world’s most famous paintings—the oil on poplar wood panel of Francesco del Giocondo’s wife Lisa Gherardini? NO. They had their backs to her while someone took their pictures with Lisa in the background or they snapped selfies. Then they hung out and chatted.

Same thing happened at L’Orangerie where tourists stood for far too long with their backs to Monet’s “Water Lilies” to have a photo taken to prove they’d been to see [?] the work. It didn’t occur to them that they were covering up the art that others were there to enjoy.

When visitors face one another to carry on a conversation right in front of a picture—and they are clearly not speaking about the exhibit or the work—it baffles and irritates me.

However, I’m thrilled to see public interest in art even if sometimes the inspiration is more “look at me,” not “look at what I saw.” Visitors come in all sizes. At the Musée de l’Orangerie and Rodin Museum I was charmed by the youngest ones who were anticipating a look at the collections.

Have you been peeved by the behavior of fellow museum visitors? Do you say something, or do you tolerate them?

She smiled at me even though I was wedged to the side in order to get a shot of her without the other tourists who had settled in straight in front for the best selfie.

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16 Responses to “Service of Museum Manners in New York and Paris”

  1. TC Said:

    DEAR JEANNE, AND THEN THERE ARE THE LOONIES WHO DELIBERATELY THROW PAINT ON ART WHILE MUSEUM GUARDS STAND BY AS IF TO MAKE SOME DEMENTED PUBLIC STATEMENT. AND FOR WHICH RESPONSIBILITY IS NEVER MENTIONED. OI VEY!!

  2. Deb Wright Said:

    I am annoyed by people who rent the audio tours of exhibits. Some are aware of their surroundings, but most are not. They will get very close to the work of art as they listen to the tape. This is wonderful that they are learning about the artist, but they are blocking my view! I prefer to look and not listen and that is my choice. So, being a very short person, I will duck around them and get to see the painting or sculpture. I ignore dirty looks; I certainly am not blocking their view!

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    TC,

    These loonies are taking advantage of the fame of a picture to draw attention to their gripe. Some of the perpetrators have a personal bone to pick and others a political one. In any case, irreplaceable art and the public are victims.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Deb,

    There should be rules of the road given to those who rent audio tours. I suspect the renters figure they’ve paid for something so to heck with everyone else. And the tours shouldn’t be available if the exhibition is overflowing.

  5. Jim Gordon Said:

    Jim on Facebook: How’d you get the photo of Lisa; you shoved everyone out of the way? 😀q😀

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Jim,

    I didn’t bother to try to get right in front of Lisa and yet her eyes followed me to the right hand side of her picture.  She was disgusted and insulted at seeing the backs of so many people. I was also the only one to see her wink.

  7. Jim Gordon Said:

    Jim on Facebook: yes it’s annoying but the truth is very few people think about art at all.If it’s some of the hotshot contemporary artists it’s all about the$$$. But real interest in art comprises a tiny percent of the those who visit the big museums. It ain’t going to change.

  8. Hank Goldman Said:

    Hank on Facebook: We in the art world, or those who appreciate art, will have to make allowances for people who are plain old tourists! To them, the Mona Lisa is like a mountain, or a bridge, or a sunset, or a rainbow… Something to have your picture taken with and then move on… That’s how it is.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Jim,

    If this is true, there are marketers around the world who want to know the secret of getting people to line up to pay to see something about which they have no interest.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    You’ve got it! A friend told me that her friend waited 4 hours to see the picture. FOUR HOURS!!!!!!!!!!! Golly.

  11. Cathy Said:

    Cathy on Facebook: This rude behavior in museums just gets worse and worse. I am very happy that people go to art museums. I’m not sure it’s always because they appreciate or want to learn about art. The sense I get all too often is that they’re checking a box so they can say they’ve done it and have the pictures or selfies to prove it. It’s not just Paris and NYC. I’ve run into it in other countries and cities. I’ve run into people who have no idea what it is they’re in a museum to see but it was on a list so… Maybe the answer is to ban photo-taking, the way they do in so many churches in Italy. Or charge a fee for taking photos. We’ve paid one fee for each cell phone and camera. You get a sticker and a permit.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Cathy,

    I like the idea of charging a fee. That way one family might take only one photo with one camera or one phone and share it later.

    Most institutions might not have a budget to pay a guard to move things along if visitors are taking too long posiing for selfies or this year’s family Christmas photo in front of a popular picture.

    This may seem off topic although it fits in a general loosening of standards when it comes to museum etiquette. In light of some reaching the boiling point when it comes to life’s frustrations, and others being clumsy, I was shocked that people are allowed in museums with water bottles.

  13. Hussein Ahman Uttah Said:

    But I’m now peeved that, – even with you taking the photo off to the side slightly, with your photo on my screen, her eye seem to be following me to wherever I am all around my flat.

    In New York!

  14. Amanda Ripanykhazova Said:

    I suppose it is the essence of DaVinci’s genius that his painting has managed to capture for the ages in those eyes her anti-marauding mechanism, – what an annoying wife she must have been to be married to!

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hussein,

    Perhaps you’d best not buy a poster of Lisa. She might make you and the other Ahman Uttahs in your household feel self conscious if she catches one of you eating the last chocolate or not replacing a cold seltzer in the fridge with one stored in a case.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Amanda,

    It was nice of her hubby to commission a painting of her—no? Bet he wished he’d have thought of asking da Vinci for residuals.

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