Art Talk - Museum Lines: Popular or Painful?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Rain Room - Random International (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Call it the most popular rain in town.

The Rain Room at the Museum of Modern Art is the art sensation of the summer, with people standing on line up to eight hours to enter the installation. And at the Guggenheim, there are also huge lines to see light artist James Turrell.

That brings the question... are museums exploiting the public or are lines unavoidable to see popular art?

Art critic Deborah Solomon says there are some shows worth standing on line for, like Turrell's, but not the Rain Room. "It's more like a Disney ride," she said.

Solomon explained that the Rain Room is part of a PS1's show called Expo One, which is about ecology. But the fact that the piece is in Manhattan, and not at PS1 in Queens is a problem. "Removed from all ecological issues, it really just becomes a spectacle that serves no purpose as far as I can see," she said.

Click on the audio link above to listen to the whole interview with Solomon and chime in with a comment below: Are you ok waiting on long lines to see art? Or do you think museums should be practicing more crowd control?

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Comments [12]

Romulo from NYC

Deborah, thanks for putting the rain room into perspective.
I can see its value as part of an Eco bias show where it likely illustrates a well purposed point, but on its own its value is diminished to just entertainment, devoid of its intended context.

Aug. 02 2013 08:44 AM
Lisa from New York City

Deborah, why are museums in this case MOMA feeding this type of mania and a gimmicky show that sounds like it belongs anywhere but a museum. I was not surprised to hear the Rain Room was not created by a single artist but by a team of designers as would any entertainment project. The crowd control issue also is a must for the museum. However, my interest has been piqued and I will get around to visiting the Rain Room but only hopefully after some of the crowds have died down.

Jul. 14 2013 09:10 PM
Deborah Solomon

Thanks for all the smart and supportive comments. Happy to be sitting at my desk now, beside an open window, listening to the rain outside without having to endure long lines and MoMA's $25 admission.
I do wonder why MoMA decided to sever the Rain Room from the ecology show now at PS1 in Queens, and thereby separate it from any possible ecological meaning. In Manhattan, the piece seems basically ANTI-ecological. It allows you to "turn off" the rain in much the same way that you might turn off the television or overhead lights. It appeals to a consumerist fantasy of human omnipotence -- and it is precisely this sensibility that is now destroying the planet.

Jul. 12 2013 02:57 PM
Angela from New York

I am glad my friend and I only went by the perimeter. Although I am glad that I went,I was also in the end quite disappointed by the execution of this project. Waited about 15 min, and would have been pretty annoyed if I had waited hours for this. Fortunately the lady who sold us the tickets let us know that going by the perimeter, you pretty much get the same feel for it.

Jul. 12 2013 10:27 AM
nelson from nyc

Thank you for this! I found everything about the rain room rather sinister and manipulative. The project is pure hype and obviously the work of moonlighting advertising people. The installation itself has, to me, a whiff of technocratic contempt for the visitor. We are spared the rain, by grace of design and technology. It's undeniably a great photo opportunity-- watching visitors there is to see the computers in the ceiling, targeting the rain, talk to the computers in everyone's hands, targeting the image of rain. Digital sensors talking to digital sensors, coincidently held my humans.

Much as I disliked this thing, I would recommend a visit using the secondary line. Might even be the better show-- watching people in the room is to witness what might be a new branch of contemporary pop art.

Lastly, this line is anything but democratic. While the crowds wait (often in actual rain!) VIPs are brought in through a back door.

Jul. 12 2013 09:52 AM
Walter Robinson from LIC

LOVE Deborah Solomon's art commentary - she has the kind of contrary quick wit that plays super-well on the radio! Sign her up!

Jul. 12 2013 09:52 AM
P Ryan from New York, NY

Timed tickets would only add to the frustration. The time is only for entry. Visitors could still spend as long as they like inside the exhibit. When visitors take longer than anticipated to move through the exhibit, the museum gets behind on entry times, creating lines. Because visitors aren't entering at their assigned time, we get frustrated waiting in a line that shouldn't exist.

The longest line I've waited in was for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. I think lines can help add to the museum experience as long as visitors understand that there will be a wait. The Met did an excellent job of clearly posting expected wait times for Savage Beauty, in addition to having staff posted at various points along the line.

Jul. 12 2013 09:41 AM
Rachel from NYC

There was a recent piece in New Yorker Magazine regarding the democracy of standing in line. The gist was, regardless of who you are or what you are, you will ultimately be 1st in line, thereby getting your turn. The obvious question in the case of the Rain Room is, is it worth getting your turn especially after waiting upward of 4 hours, exposed to the elements- including rain? While I may not agree entirely with Deborah Solomon's critique of the Rain Room, I strongly agree that MoMA and other museums guilty of creating a feeding frenzy through the blockbuster exhibit system need timed tickets. As an employee of a museum here in New York City, I really feel for visitors who are turned away because of poorly executed entry systems. Timed tickets are the only guaranty that the public, regardless of who, what, when, where, will enjoy entry into an exhibit that interests them.

Jul. 12 2013 09:20 AM
deborah Solomon

Thank you, John from Asbury Park, for your comments. I agree with you entirely; the Rain Room offers a photo op in the place of an art experience.

Jul. 12 2013 08:57 AM
John from Asbury Park, NJ

Deborah Solomon's Rain Room report was spot on. In the first week, as a member, I waited in line two hours, ironically, in the rain. The exhibit monitor explained that the artists' conceived the project with participants having unlimited time in the installation. Of course, the artists' vision is paramount. But the execution is painful for this reason: groups of friends spend ages taking picture after picture after video, even staging shots. In retrospect, it was not worth my time. The promotional photo of a person in the installation is very misleading, since the rain does not part as pictured. There was a leak in the roof dripping outside of the installation, and one of the square spouts was malfunctioning. If you want to wait in line for a one of a kind experience, visit James Turrell's "Backside of the Moon" on Naoshima island in Japan.

Jul. 12 2013 08:39 AM
Deborah Solomon

Hello there R Weisberg. Thank you for your brilliant comment and here's to timed tickets forever!

Jul. 12 2013 08:04 AM
R Weisberg from Hoboken, NJ

Well, I'm a bit biased to begin with - I don't like to wait in lines and I stubbornly refuse to accept lines as a necessity of the modern world (except at the airport). The way I see it, an advantage of being in a metropolis like NYC is that there are always plenty of great options - whether for galleries or food trucks or music - that the mainstream hasn't caught onto yet and that you don't have to wait to enjoy. In fact I'm a bit of a snob about it - I tend to be biased AGAINST shows or events that generate huge lines (I live in Hoboken NJ, home of the Cake Boss - where throngs wait to enter what for most of my life was considered a an utterly unexceptional bakery). I often assume that something popular enough to pull in a mass audience has too much of a commercial crowd-pleasing esthetic for my taste. However, once in a while I'll make an exception - I DID make an exception for Marclay's The Clock - I felt that was worth waiting for. I haven't been to the Rain Room but I do trust Deborah Solomon's analysis that considers this more a crowd-grabbing production piece than an individual creative work, and even as the latter it isn't all that special (because there are certainly market-driven creations I do really enjoy) - it's definitely not something I would wait for. Also I appreciate Deborah's discussion of how the museum actually is using the lines as a selling point when they could issue time tickets - that's a very good point.

Jul. 12 2013 07:59 AM

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