Yesterday we visited the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia and I have to say it was one of the most appalling museum experiences I've ever had. First, try to find your way into the building - the place looks like Fort Knox and is about as welcoming. What initially looks like the front door is actually a loading dock. We made our way around police barricade tape and finally found a sign that said "Tickets". The ticket kiosk guy looked at us like we were nuts and pointed us to the main building to buy tickets.
Inside, we were asked if we had reservations. Reservations? Nothing on the website said anything about reservations.
::big sigh:: "Well, it's OK for today, but next time you really should make reservations." Uh, OK. Whatever....
We were given cryptic directions to check our coats downstairs and the gallery upstairs and also there's a mezzanine. We grabbed a couple of guide maps and thought we'd figure it out from there. Uh right. the guide maps might as well be blank squares, the information was that unhelpful.
Downstairs we were told we had to put all our stuff in lockers. No coats. No bags. No umbrellas. No Cameras. No phones. The coat check lady was very nice and helped us figure out how the locks worked, but we were already pretty frustrated.
Back upstairs we first went to the ornamental iron exhibit. OK, that was very cool - extremely well laid out, well labeled and very interesting. We did our best to ignore the security guards pacing around (you'd think they were guarding the crown jewels) and admired the door knockers and engraved boxes.
On to the main galleries. We passed through a security checkpoint where our tickets are scanned and we're told, "No photos, No touching, Don't cross the dark line." We were offered free audio tour devices, but declined them. We should have taken them.
Because in the Barnes there are NO LABELS, except for teeney little brass plates with the artist's last name affixed to the truly hideous frames. All well and good, but if you lean over the dark line to read the microscopic label, the security guards yell at you to GET BACK, YOU ARE OVER THE DARK LINE. Never mind that some paintings simply can't be seen without crossing the force field of security summons.
It was wonderful to see the paintings, and appreciate the unusual exhibition style, but I really didn't feel like I could take my time and relax. There were so many ways the museum could make its visitors feel welcome, but it's almost as if they deliberately chose to cultivate a manner of elitism just this side of hostility. Even the bathroom fixtures were non-intuitive, Euro-design that mocked my failed attempts to flush, wash and dry. So, if you don't mind being treated like a petty criminal with no class at all, by all means visit the Barnes and check out the Picassos. I'll be at the Art Museum on Free Sundays with the rest of the fun Philly crowd.