Modern Art Museum Guide
On navigating our most cherished cultural experience.
Tickets – Tickets for an “adult” will range anywhere between $15.00 to $35.00 dollars, depending on the opulence of the city and pretentiousness of the Museum. The student rate does not imply that one is not a fully realized adult, but simply acknowledges, and honors, the fiscal constraints. The person in the ticket booth will most likely be a recent art school graduate with some piercings in their face and problematic canvases in their studio. They will shove your ticket at you. Just bow your head to their unhappiness.
Coat Check – You may want to check in your coat or bag. Another recent art school graduate, also with piercings in their face, and tattoos yielding ominous signifiers from other cultures will shove a plastic number at you. This will either be a cheap lamination, or a specially commissioned number designed by a freelancer having trouble with rent. Your number will be somewhat greasy due to the preceding succession of borrowers just as yourself. If you are feeling alienated at this point, good. The artwork you are about to witness is even more so.
Contemporary Collection – You will be met with various metal squares on the floor, monochromatic squares on the walls, or oddly shaped things precariously leaning against the walls, or set in corners. Placards tucked under plexiglass positioned to their lower-right will describe their attributes. These things will not represent anything, save the mental conceits of the artist, whose knowledge of you bring into the museum as “counter currency” in this essentially antagonist relationship between artist and viewer — the former trying to outwit the latter, the latter desiring to understand it, or feigning to, to outwit their friends and family from back home.
Security Guards – The security guards will represent the main disenfranchised ethnicity of the city. As consistent with the subconscious discourse of museum-going, the museum-goer will feel elevated — in a liberal way, of course — from the rest of society; they will see these unfortunate people, nodding in-and-out of sleep at minimum wage, and think “Yes, I know who Jeff Koons is. They don’t. College.” Security guards are usually black, Hispanic, Filipino, or of the Balkan countries. Representing the low- to mid-class, their complete disinterest towards the work — large, featureless, passive-aggressively titled “Untitled” — inversely heightens its cultural merit. These guards are ghosts, myths paid by the hour, who only come out of the walls when you get too close.
Permanent Collection – The permanent collection consists of works your mom or aunt — and most importantly the donor ladies in hats — are likely to call “lovely,” the modern paintings of Seurat, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, Matisse, etc., nevermind that they were crudely painted by compulsive or insane men often with horrendous diseases and a penchant for statutory rape. Modern art taught us to color outside of the lines, the Montessori school of individuality and self-involvement. Pass the blotchy colors quickly, and try not to have a nervous breakdown.
Restroom – It may be time to visit the restroom, which will architecturally be a mini-museum in itself. Save the one rare-ish orchid leaning towards the mirror — its duplicate reflection somewhat “meta” in this theory-hungry environment — the restroom will be comprised of long clean minimalist-y lines, so subtle you may have difficulty differentiating between stall doors and their walls, such that you may need to push lightly at random surfaces calling out hello? in order to find a stall and not come upon its stunned inhabitant. You may also have trouble finding the faucet’s lever, as it will be rendered invisible by high-design.
Special Exhibition – This will be a retrospective of someone who is still alive, an art star. Perhaps this person was recently profiled in The New Yorker, or Artforum, or glibly interviewed on Charlie Rose. You’ve seen posters for this show everywhere, draped on streetlights, spanning building fronts, advertised in magazines, hauntingly reviewed in our most inestimable newspapers and journals. Someone whose intellectuality you feel in competition with saw the show last weekend and conveyed, during a grueling dinner party at which they sat cross-legged the entire time, how it “changed [them], like, you don’t even know.” You want a taste of this profundity, this well-marketed event, and here you are.
Concessions Kiosk – The special exhibition will bottleneck you into a special kiosk built as a satellite gift shop to exploit any residual feelings you have towards the exhibit before it dwindles in the elevator back down. It is impossible to not pass through this. You can buy postcards, posters, mugs, socks, kitchen tiles, and t-shirts all adorning some key motif of the show you’ve seen. You see a steel mouse pad that looks like a miniature Richard Serra sculpture priced at $65.00. You refrain from buying it, because the last time you bought a piece of crap and put it in your office the janitor threw it away.
Museum Cafe – That took two-and-a-half hours. Your lower back is killing you, and you feel rather alienated by all that non-representational stuff on floors and walls, inside gigantic rooms, herded in chronological order towards a depressive’s late career. Though the sharp angular square chairs look like art sculptures themselves, you are so tired they actually look comfortable. It is time to sit down. It is time for a $15.00 dollar sandwich, time for a $4.50 dollar iced-tea. But first, time for another line whose destination is another recent art school graduate with metal in their face.
Gift Shop – Through the gift shop, still inside the museum, you see pale flickers of light from the street: the passing traffic, people bowing into their mobiles as they walk towards the next phase of their life, a lost subpoena blowing in the wind, a one-legged pigeon hopping, unnoticed, into an empty bag of chips, a tree trunk grateful for the hole in the cement it was given. The world seems to be doing fine without art. It barely noticed your tentative devotion to it. Before you enter this world again — the one from which art itself is ostensibly made — you pass a solemnly thick monograph of your favorite artist. Someone whose pain you fostered as your own, almost tearing at the images. It’s a third of your rent and body weight. You gently put it down, and re-enter this ugly world.
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