Wednesday, 24 September 2014

National Gallery Membership

Membership pack
Picture: National Gallery
I've just become a member of the National Gallery. Some months ago the National Gallery abolished exhibition season tickets, promising to replace them with a nebulous 'friends' scheme. The details have finally been announced and, credit where it's due, it looks good. There will still be unlimited exhibition entry, which is a great relief. And a free tote bag (above). Yippee! It will actually save me money, so I do hope it doesn't turn out to reduce revenue for the gallery. I'll happily donate back the money I save if they ban photography.  

The only disappointment is the thick dollop of guff accompanying the announcement. Nicholas Penny is quoted as saying that the scheme "allows us to understand what our visitors want and to provide an exceptional visitor experience for every single person who walks through our doors." I don't believe that anyone of Penny's intelligence and eloquence could write such errant nonsense. How does a £50 a year subscription give the NG any greater understanding of its visitors, let alone enable provision of 'an exceptional visitor experience' for everyone. Will it reduce overcrowding or stop flash photography in the galleries?

The NG has recently been obsessing about 'audience engagement', more than a decade after it became fashionable. It's ironic because it is one of the most imperious and disengaged institutions I know. They recently overturned their photography ban without consultation and without announcement. There was a lively global debate about the wisdom of the change, but the NG itself took no part in it. E-mails go unanswered. I recently queried the glazing of some Rembrandt portraits that had returned from an exhibition. The glazing was duly removed after I'd got in touch, but I got no acknowledgement. They recently put out a tweet about the Rembrandt exhibition that was manifestly incorrect. It's impressive to be wrong in just 140 characters when writing about the NG's biggest exhibition. But there was no response and no correction. 

I don't mind being ignored. I'm not seeking a 'relationship' with the gallery, and if I'm honest I rather like the old-fashioned haughtiness. Usually the curators really do know best. What I object to is firstly that the curators have been sidelined by 'experts' in marketing and communication, who put out utter guff. And second that they persist in telling us how much they want to 'engage' the audience and have a 'dialogue' with us, though that 'dialogue' goes no further than soliciting and repeating mindless gushing praise. 

Feel free to continue ignoring my tweets and e-mails, dear NG. File them away with the green biro letters if you must. But do stop with the 'engaging the audience' nonsense if all you're going to do is re-tweet enthusiastic praise.


  1. It is a particular form of "photography" that should be banned ; cell-phones and Ipods and any of those flat babylonian tablets. What kind of use would anyone have for those distorted,smudgy snapshots? The ones who make them are only at the museum by mistake.I cannot imagine that any artist ever wanted to communicate through their art with the snap-shot takers.

    1. I never thought I'd say this, but bring on Google Glass. I hate the social intrusion, but in an art gallery people constantly but unobtrusively taking pictures through glasses would be much less harmful than the sea of illuminated clicking devices you get at the moment.

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