How I curated comfort for museums

It’s not for everyone, but once you start…

Last month, I read a question by someone on a travel forum…“Is it worthwhile to visit the Louvre Museum in Paris?” Her question didn’t surprise me that much, though Louvre is amongst the most-visited spots in the world. Anyway, I was curious to know the replies, so I scrolled over the comments till I reached the most interesting one. “Don’t waste your money on the expensive ticket. Shop for LV at Galleries Lafayette instead.” This fashionista was advising a splurge on a logo-splattered Louis Vuitton piece of leather arm-candy rather than investing a few hours and a few euros on real art. Talk of divergent perspectives…specially when it comes to value for money!

I like my retail therapy and I like my handbags. But I love museums too. You can be human AND arty, right? And judgemental (okay, just a teeny bit)?

Confession time. A few years back, I wouldn’t have been as surprised to read the LV fan’s suggestion. I hadn’t cultivated my ‘museum-y’ side by then. It was only we started travelling to Europe, that I decided to open up my mind’s windows to all things arty. Yeah, decided. Consciously. Willingly. It’s possible…like a good habit. And then I started enjoying it.

My first brush with a museum of epic proportions was…yes, the Louvre! And what a way to start…with one of the world’s grandest, largest and most impressive art homes. On that crisp morning of October 2003, I remember feeling somewhat dwarfed, standing there at the pavement of Rue de Rivoli, facing the elegant, colossal palace. Somewhat like that feeling of non-existence you get when you’re faced with a breathtaking landscape…thinking how privileged you are to be able to travel and see the wonders of this world. I knew then that I would grow to love museums.

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The size of the Louvre is enough to overwhelm you

Admittedly, the big trigger for that visit was the anticipation of seeing Mona Lisa, but at that instant I was so ready, I could have devoured any art that came my way. Tracing the whirlwind of memories now, I recall wandering from one mammoth gallery to another, hungrily studying the amazing paintings that hung from huge ornate frames and circling the gigantic marble sculptures with raised eyebrows, before we culminated our search near Da Vinci’s inimitable muse. Weaving skilfully through the crowd, as I reached the front and came face to face with one of the most celebrated paintings of all time, I had felt a victorious thrill. The Louvre had hypnotised me…changed me forever. But you know what they say about hypnosis…no one can hypnotise you unless you want to be under the spell. Well, I had wanted to.

Over the next few years, museums became a natural fixture in every itinerary of ours. London’s Victoria & Albert, Natural History Museum and National Gallery, Athens’ Acropolis Museum and the Florence’s Uffizi and the Vatican Museums….we didn’t want to miss any. As you see more and more, you started understanding why you’re enjoying it so much…specially if you love all things beautiful, all things artistic, and specially, all things old.

It was not until our trip to Austria in 2010, that we really started relishing the museum experience fully. In Vienna, we delved deep into the Museum Quartier and Belvedere Museum, and continued our art trail in Amsterdam with Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. By the time we toured Madrid the following year, skipping the three biggies…Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen, was unthinkable. The next year, at Berlin, we spent an entire day at the Museum Mile. And when we travelled to France again in 2014, we returned to the Louvre more mature, more aware, and ended up spending at least thrice the time since our first visit. When we went back to Mona Lisa, there was a sea of people crowding her like paparazzi. This time too, I squeezed my way to the front, happy that I was as excited to see her again. Some people think of her as a let-down. She’s small, but that makes her more of an enigma. But she has a special corner in my heart…she’s the reason I fell in love with museums in the first place!

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Mona Lisa..there she is again!! Can I get to her?

So, what did we do differently since Vienna? Two words… ‘audio guides’. Being armed with succinct, yet elaborate commentary on the artists’s perspective adds so much more depth to what you’re seeing. Over time, you start recognising colours, techniques, styles, names of artists and genres. The more you get familiarised, the more comfortable you feel. And then you discovered you like some art better than the others. You spend more time on each piece you’re drawn to. And you filtered out others that don’t appeal as much. In the process, you discover your own personal choices.

A cousin of mine is vehemently against going to museums while traveling. She would rather roam a dozen more streets instead, feeling the pulse of the city. I think it’s a personality thing. Also, maybe a museum feels like school…too much work, and who wants to work on vacation? You do feel like that, until you unleash a curiosity to know deeper. Allow yourself to flow from one exhibit to the next. And get drawn in. Feel the tone. Feel the past. Feel the character. Deny your brain all attempts to memorise. Concentrate on feeling. Contemplate the human hands behind every creation, every brushstroke, every sculpted sinew, every stone arch. And connect the pieces, see the rhythm, smell the theme, hear the voice. And know…that all art forms – paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, theatre, dance have the power to uplift the soul.

Museums are not for everyone. But I gave it a chance and now I’m addicted. For good.

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Feeling tiny at Altes Museum, Berlin

During a short break to Palampur recently, where our plan was just to walk under pine trees and roam tea gardens, we were drawn irresistibly to Sir Sobha Singh Art Gallery and Museum in the nearby artists’ village of Andretta. The artist’s impeccably preserved studio, bedroom, personal possessions, in a little house looked straight out of Stratford-upon-Avon. Wonder why it reminded me of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Saint Paul of Mausole Monastery, on the outskirts of St Remy, Provence, France. I guess that’s the power of art…it grows on you…pulls you into its folds…adding just a little more pink hue to those rose-colored glasses of yours.

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32 thoughts on “How I curated comfort for museums

    1. Neeraj, thank you so much, that is very encouraging! Yes, a couple of posts on world music and theatre are in my list already for this category..coming up soon. Hope you keep reading!

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  1. I’m not a big fan of museums, but I also like to go there once in awhile. It’s a good place to learn about history and get inspiration. I choose to do it in early hours or near closing time, just because I can avoid people more at those times.

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  2. I am totally one of those non-museum people. I’m just really not into art. Historical stuff I can sometimes do, but it’s gotta be interestingly displayed or have interactive pieces. I will, however, go after quirky museums. Those are typically fun.

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  3. Absolutely love your style of writing. I have a trip planned to Europe very soon. Beyond excited to get to France! I too LOVE museums. I was at the MET yesterday, great time 🙂 (skylinesfromrooftops.com)

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  4. Though I wouldn’t visit many museums in one trip, I usually try to find the one dedicated to art that would be the most interesting for me. the Louvre is a must! You might not want to spend the money or wait or even be pissed at the crowds, but there are some places that you have to see!

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  5. had been to the Louver Museum, and just loved it. wished had more time to see completely, but as a matter of fact, it is said we need nearly 99 days to see the entire museum!! but for me watching the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci, was a dream come true.. so may be sometime in future hope to see the entire art collection there!!

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  6. Finally, someone said it! I totally agree with you here. Museums are not for everyone and for those who are still trying, it is hard to fall in love with art when there are huge exhibitions and crazy tourists just flocking around famous masterpieces. I use audioguides and museum maps as well. I also researched beforehand the temporary exhibits to prioritze them. Glad you enjoyed your visits to Austrian museums.

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  7. My first solo trip overseas was to Paris. I’ve been there an additional two times since and have not gone to the Louvre. If I go again (which I hope I will), I still may not go in. I’m more interested in history and am not willing to pay more than $5 US to look at art.

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  8. I agree, there are definitely “diverse” perspectives on what to spend money on (and many people seem to be either “shoppers” OR “museum seekers”) WShen we went to Paris we were on an extremely tight schedule with two small kids. Someone mentioned to just go into the Louvre, see Mona Lisa…..and leave….what??? I myself LOVE museums in Europe! And we have tried self tours, guides and audio guides, depends on the size, but the knowledge can help speed the process!

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  9. I wasn’t a huge fan of museums before either. Until I started traveling with my boyfriend (now fiance), he’s really into museums. Great article! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  10. Not a huge Museums lover, although I don’t mind venturing in if there’s some type of ancient monument to have a look at. Europe IS a perfect place for the museum/castle lover though and I can see why they bring in such big crowds, but I’m honestly not going to spend too much time around them. Great article though, keep posting! 🙂

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