A museum is a bad place to look at art …

“I think a museum is a bad place to look at art; the worst context for art is other art.” No – not my point of view. This is a statement by Banksy, the elusive creator of impressive street art, in a recent exclusive Guardian interview.

‘m not sure if I agree with his point of view. I’d like to hear more, before agreeing or disagreeing. I’d like to know what makes him conclude art museums are bad places for looking at art. Is it all art, or certain art – like contemporary, or street art?

Why “the worst context for art is other art”? Where does this come from and why does he reason like this? I don’t mind looking at two versions of a same theme, or image, or idea, or interpretation, but made hundreds of years apart. But is that the kind of context he was thinking of?

Does this activist, street artist, painter, film director mean just art museums? Or are all museums the wrong context to look at whatever they contain? Of course, museums are usually not the places, where the items they now display, were supposed to be admired.

Rembrandt’s famous painting “Nachtwacht” or “Night Watch” – or any of his paintings – was never meant to be seen in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. It was created for quite another room, in quite another building. Statues, furniture, books, cars, mummies, whatever is now on display in most museums – much was never created to be admired in them or to be displayed in them for us to gawped at. Have you ever thought about this?

Another remark made me laugh: ” … What do people like most about going to look at art? The coffee. …” Well – maybe not the coffee, but drinks are always welcome. Ever been to an opening of an exhibition, or to a museum, art gallery, art show? There aren’t that many people who can just look at art and enjoy the experience – without needing a drink and fingerfood.

The average museum visitor does grumble when the café is closed. As was the case while visiting an Amsterdam canal house with friends recently. Staff told me, the café is now only open when a concert is hosted in this particular museum. Despite the fact that museum Geelvinck has one of the most smashing gardens of Amsterdam canal houses open to the public.

A missed opportunity, but I suspect budget cuts are behind this decision. Nevertheless: so sorry, but the group and I enjoyed visiting the museum opposite this one even more. Museum van Loon still has a small coffee counter, exceedingly nice staff, and a quiet garden. Despite of us being caught up in a wedding ceremony and its reception later on – we appreciated being able to sit in the garden listening to birds, after going through the museum’s rooms and exhibition of modern art.

What about this one: ‘“Low-income holidaymakers” are the perfect art audience.’ You may agree, but I don’t. I think the perfect audience, regardless of its income, is an audience open to new experiences, to beauty – regardless how they define it and what they consider to be beautiful – and having some humour. But then: if I had to choose between the donkeys and an art festival in Weston-super-Mare or anywhere else – with or without drinks – … I’d opt for the donkeys.

Guardian, Banksy on Dismaland, interview Friday 21-08-2015 The Banksy art festival can be visited at Weston-super-Mare till the 27th of September 2015
Museum Geelvinck, Amsterdam
Museum van Loon, Amsterdam


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