Museum hopping

by Evans Yonson

The British Museum's ceiling provides good lighting to all visitors.

Barcelona – One of the nicest things that my stay in Europe affords me is the access to the world’s greatest museum. I have been to the British Museum and seen the Greek, Viking and Visigoth exhibitions. I have the enchanting smile of Mona Lisa and mysterious body twisting of Venus de Milo in the Louvre Museum in Paris. I have seen the Guernica of Picasso, the Las Meninas of Velasquez, the works of Salvador Dali in the museums of Spain. I came face to face with Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and other masters of great art the world has ever known. I have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and walked the winding walkway of the Guggenheim Museum and marveled at that gigantic dinosaur in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

I remember in 2005 when I went to visit a very good friend, Thor, in London. He asked his wife to accompany me to The British Museum, which she gladly did. But little had I known that she was the type of person who could last long leisurely walks around the museum. She decided to wait for me outside the museum. I spent almost three hours inside and she was already frowning when I got out.

A museum is a building where objects of interest or significance are stored and exhibited. Museums enable people to explore these objects and collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society. There are various types of museums all over the world: fine arts, maritime, military, interests, among many others.

The infamous Louvre Museum. Paris, Summer 2005.

Is there a decorum called for when one enters a museum?

Certainly. It’s a place where history of a certain era or period of a group of people, artists, and citizens. History is presented before the audience in a manner that is logical and understandable. Each collection or exhibition presents a certain idea or series of thoughts the museum curator would want the audience to see and appreciate. As an audience, on the other hand, we are expected to behave in a manner due the exhibition before us.

Before going to the museum, read about your destination. Most famous museums have their permanent collections and their temporary exhibits or simply exhibitions spread throughout several months. The smaller one have their permanent collections throughout the year. Unless otherwise, there are new acquisitions or donations from generous benefactors and art patrons. There is a standard price to see the permanent collections. While the exhibitions command another ticket on top of the permanent collection price. Students below 26 years old and senior citizens are given big discounts for all the entrance tickets to museums. Other than that the rest enters with the regular price. I might be a student right now but I belong in that category called ‘Others’. Most museums, nowadays, allow photography inside but with no flash. Before flash photography affected the conditions of paintings and other works of art. Smaller museums still don’t allow any photography at all. Food is never allowed. Some museums allow water and maybe bottled milk for children. There are museums that require dress code but generally the museums in Europe don’t. There are audio guides in various languages to cater to different audience. Some smaller museums in Venice offer printer materials in lieu of the audio guides.

One of the British Museum's controversial pieces of art. London, April 2005.

Museums are centers of learning. Every time I visit a new city, a museum is a must destination. Everything else will follow. What better way to appreciate the city’s historical past by visiting the museum. In the Philippines, we only get to read about Louis XIII, his son, Louis XIV, and Marie Antoinette. But if you’re visiting the Chateau de Versailles, you don’t only get to see the gardens but you will also feel how they pranced along the Hall of Mirrors. Everyone is expected to behave properly inside any museum. Every time someone enters a museum, he or she is considered a learning individual. This person is learning and understanding what is inside. Nobody runs or walks fast inside a museum. Time stops inside because it is supposed to be a walk back to the past. You take every available information as something new. And that is the only thing that you can take back home with you. Well, aside from the souvenirs that are available at the end of your visit.

I have had the opportunity to be with Filipino friends in visiting some of the museums that I have mentioned earlier. But not all of them share the enthusiasm that I have every time I see a piece of art. When I saw a work by Wassily Kandinsky, my friend just passed by and didn’t even bother to stop and appreciate Russia’s first and most famous abstract artist. I almost cried when I saw Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and another friend just laughed at me. I was completely awed at Michelangelo’s David in Florence and my Filipino companion said it was boring for his taste.

I don’t blame my Filipino friends. Art and culture appreciation is not a priority for Filipinos back home. The Mona Lisa will not provide food to our tables. Nor The Night Watch of Rembrandt will cloth and protect us from the rain. These things are food for our beings. They provide us understanding of how it was in the past and how certain groups of people in a given era. Jose Rizal, one of the Philippine national heroes who studied in Europe, must have been inspired by these works of art and museum. He once said, “he who does not (know how to) look back at his past (where he came from) will not reach his destination.”