Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Slow Down! An art museum's solution...

It doesn’t need to be said: we are all going too fast, in our cars, in our lives, in our frenetic need for access to information. From Paul Simon’s lyric “Slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the morning last…” (1966) to Wordsworth’s “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” (1807) poets have long chided us for our desire to accelerate and acquire
One art institution is making a counter statement. Glenstone, the creation of wealthy collectors Mitch and Emily Rales, is a museum of world class contemporary art that opened in 2006 on their 230 acre property in Potomac MD and which, after months of work, has been dramatically expanded. It now features five times its original gallery space, new landscaping, outdoor art installations, walking trails and an online reservation system, very busy since the re-opening of Glenstone in October.  In fact, presently the earliest reservation you can get is for February 2019.

Why? The Rales couple purposely caps Glenstone’s admission-free attendance at 400 per day.  They want to provide a contemplative experience for their visitors.  This attitude is counter to the populist approach museums have had for years. Throw the doors open and y’all come. Even with steep admission prices, such as the Met and MOMA, the galleries, especially for special exhibitions, are jammed. But aside from the fact that you “got in” how much time and visual access do you have with the art displayed? I experienced the infamous “Mona Lisa Moment” cited recently by the Washington Post’s critic Phillip Kennicott at The Louvre some years ago. If you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of the iconic painting by peering over the shoulders and raised cameras of hundreds of visitors jostling for position.  

Kennicott equates the careful pacing of the Glenstone experience to the Rales’ interest in the growing “slow art” movement, in which some curators and designers are looking to offer visitors a chance for “sustained attention” to works of art. For instance the new indoor galleries at Glenstone were designed to offer 300 square feet in which to move about, as opposed to the average of 32 square feet at the Guggenheim in New York. What’s more, there are no stanchions or barriers between the art and viewer to impede the feeling of connection and immediacy. 

It should be noted this special experience is due to the Rales’ great wealth and generosity. It is a small institution compared to the behemoth METs and MOMAs, with huge curatorial, administrative and maintenance staffs and facilities that need constant feeding.  Nevertheless, the Rales are asking: what comes first - the attendance numbers/income or the visitor’s experience?

The October opening of the new Glenstone received widespread national media attention and praise , hence the backlog in securing a reservation. I look forward to December 1 when Glenstone  (at  will start accepting online reservations for February forward.  But we all better act fast, to guarantee a  reservation  for a slow experience.

p.s. while waiting for December 1 and the Glenstone reservations to open up try the video site  Slow TV premiered by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.  As an antidote to the action hero milieu in the media so popular today, there you can experience, in its entirety, a 9 hour train ride carefully filmed solely from the engineer’s cab.  

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