Museums and galleries in London give visitors free access to artwork. Most pieces are not covered by glass, which would protect them from external damage. However, at the Louvre Museum, the Mona Lisa is besieged by strong bulletproof glass, so you can only see the painting from afar. In London, however, you can see Picasso’s Weeping Woman directly in front you and look into Picasso’s paintings to examine the texture of the canvas. In short, there are few restrictions that separate artwork and appreciator, so people gain real appreciation of the work. The British government is neither laziness nor showing poor safety; it has belief in its citizen. Museums and galleries in London believe visitors will not damage the artwork. The rule makes the museum’s atmosphere comfortable and free. Agnes Bataclan, a 27-year-old photographer, says “I think it’s very easy in London to get involved in art. When there is an exhibition going on, everyone knows about it and everyone is talking about it.”
• What Comes Around Goes Around
Citizens of Britain do not visit museums merely to receive what is simply offered. They go to fulfill an act of giving as well. What could visitors possibly offer museums? After all, isn’t it the museum that is supposed to be doing all the “Giving.” However, citizens use the opportunity to contribute to the institutions as much as possible, which in turn has cultivated a closer relationship between the two.
There are many donation boxes inside museums. Small children shove and push each other just to have a turn to drop a coin in the boxes. While British museums rely heavily on these donations for revenue, there is a deeper significance to these transparent containers. Each donation box has a specific amount of money printed on its side; the amounts range from 3 to 5 pounds depending on the museum. It could be said that museums are receiving entrance fees through voluntary donation. Even if a citizen pays the same amount of money as an entrance fee, the feeling differs from when one is forced to pay an admissions fee. When citizens are given the chance to contribute to museums they visit, it forms a friendlier bond, which is what visitors gain in return.
People feel exhausted after touring a museum because they have only listened to the museum’s explanations for several hours straight. It should be the role of a museum to organize exhibitions and artifacts under certain themes for visitors to view. If visitors could chose, what would they want to see? An employee at the National Gallery said, “Schools request theme-based tours for their students when they come, so our docents select and show them particular paintings that fall under a certain theme. In a way, students are choosing their own content.” Romeu, a student visiting the National Gallery, said “I came to study some of the paintings I heard about in class. I wanted to learn more.” Dean Lord, a 23 year old graphic designer, said, “I come to appreciate other forms of contemporary art and gain inspiration and insight.” Visitors tend to choose specific artwork to look at amongst a museum’s vast collections. When visitors organize their own tour, they are acting as curators.
• Befriend the Musuem
When asked “What is culture?” ,how do you answer? This is a very difficult question to most people. People, in daily life, often hear the word culture, but only a few people can truly explain the meaning of culture with certainty. Then, how many times have you spontaneously gone to a museum this year? If you went just three times this year, you are considered highly cultured 20s according to KOSIS. In fact, the average of number of people in their 20s that go to a museum was 2.6 in 2011.
Commonly, we think that we should be quiet and sense culture at a museum. We have been educated to think this way, and of course, it is not wrong. However, it is not right, either. If we go to a museum with this thought, it’s very difficult to feel interested in exhibitions or even relaxed there. In this case, a museum becomes a teacher, and we should be polite and ready to learn in front of the teacher, so visiting a museum voluntarily becomes a hard ‘task.'
Therefore, to lower a museum’s barricade, the relation between museum and people should be friendly. In short, the relation should be complementary. A museum cannot survive without people, and people are not passive beings upon whom knowledge and information is imprinted. Indeed, people complete a museum and by extension, voluntary visitations or participation in operations can complete a person. People become intimate with culture in everyday life and also have strong responsibility. The museums visited and people met throughout SMT’s week in London showed such figure. Experiencing intimacy and responsibility, you gain a fantastic friend instead of a strict teacher.
Q1 Free entrance fees, is it really advantageous?
In London, I rarely had to pay to enter a museum. Free admissions, how attractive! According to the interview with a worker for the Natural History Museum in a previous issue of SMT, free entry attracts more visitors and they are from more diverse age brackets. It sounds great. However, can you be sure it is only great? Would this system work in Korea, too? Some say that an entrance fee shows respect for the past. By paying money, visitors can feel the museum’s worth, and as a result they treat the collections with great worth and have the responsibility to them. Also, in contrast to the UK where most of the collections were spoils of war, most collections in Korea are originally our owned. In spite of these reasons, can we say free entrance is really good?
Q2 For whom does art serve?
Who would have expected to see elderly couples using canes and messy haired teenagers all at the same exhibition? Punk rock star David Bowie attracted visitors from all age groups to come and enjoy his progressive music. Enjoying art and culture is perceived as a sophisticated hobby reserved for the elite, but this misunderstanding acts as a barrier between people and museums. Temporary exhibitions can be the resolution. Popular short-term themes can be organized into an exhibition that catches the interest of citizens regardless of academic or social background thereby taking one step closer towards a cultural life for all.
Q3 Absence of Identity in Museums
When you think of the Louvre Museum in Paris, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo. Not only are these paintings some of the most popular pieces in the world, they also define the identity of the Louvre. Most leading museums in the world have a unique character and identity established by their permanent exhibitions. However, the same does not hold true in Korea. Even the National Museum of Korea, which is the biggest museum in Korea, does not have a clear identity. Identity can be created by a variety of means, but making a unique permanent exhibition should be the first step. The clearer a museum’s identity, the more interest visitors will have.