In Praise of Your Local Art Museum

29 Jun

You might have noticed that I haven’t written anything recently.  The truth is that I’ve succumbed to one of the great pitfalls of art museums:  you put off going because you assume you can go whenever.  You see, I decided that I wanted to finally write guides for the art museums in Munich.  Made sense, since I live here.  But I got busy with other things and put it off, thinking that as soon as I had a spare moment I could go.

We all do that, though.  We tend to overlook the great things about our local cultural institutions even when we can’t wait to visit those in other cities.  As soon as I step off the plane in London I head straight for the museums there, yet here in Munich I can’t seem to make time.  Obviously traveling does something to us, makes us feel like we have to see as much as we can while we’re there, but we seldom have the same pressing feeling whine we’re at home.

In doing so we miss out on the truly great relationship we can have with our local museums.  There are special advantages for visiting museums in your city on a regular basis that we lose when our exposure to art consists of a few hours while we’re on vacation.  For one thing, we often approach our vacations as one big to-do list.  We dutifully march around Rome, Paris, or wherever checking off the sights we feel we need to see and the experiences we feel we need to have.  Rarely do we give ourselves time to simply sit and enjoy our surroundings.  Visiting your local museums allows you to do exactly that.

In fact, I’d venture to say time is the single greatest advantage that local museums have.  You can go back week in and week out and see whatever parts of the museums interest you on that day without feeling like you have to see the whole thing.  There have been times when I’ve gone to Munich’s Alte Pinakothek and not even bothered to look at half the museum; I just wanted to stop in and see the fabulous Dürers on display and maybe spend some time with da Vinci’s Madonna of the Carnation.  That’s the beauty of local art museums – you can spend as much time with your favorite works as possible because you can always come back.  You can really appreciate the complexity of your average work of art only when you look at it for longer than 2 minutes.

There’s a certain intimacy that comes with visiting the same museum frequently.  You get to know the paintings and the artists in a way that allows you to feel comfortable with them as you do old friends.  You’re surprised by something you hadn’t noticed before every time you go in.  As human beings we take special delight with being around things that are familiar to us, and art museums are no different if we give them a chance.  We can make every visit unique and interesting by how we approach the works of art and make our way through the galleries all the while enjoying our favorite works of art.

The other great thing about local museums is that they are a reflection of the cities in which they’re located.  The more you visit the more you’re aware of the exhibitions, film screenings, concerts, and other events that museums offer to serve their communities.  You begin to really see the museum as a living, breathing community center instead of a collection of lifeless hallways.  You can try new activities such as specialized tours and after-hours events.  You might event want to become a member so you can be up to date on what’s going on and stop by whenever you want.

But we have to start by going.  I wish I could say I was some sort of great example for this, but I haven’t been recently.  I shall try to do better.  Like most people I find myself sitting on the couch watching Four Weddings and a Funeral for the 12th time rather than going to do something truly interesting, which is especially sad since some of the world’s greatest art museums happen to be located where I live.  The thing is, I don’t know how long I’ll be living in Munich, and when the time comes to leave I hope I don’t find myself thinking longingly of everything I should have done while I was here.  Besides, I really should write about them eventually.


One Response to “In Praise of Your Local Art Museum”

  1. alysonkrier June 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Wonderful post, this reminded me that there is a Frank Lloyd Wright house across town that I meant to see last summer. Nowhere near the grandeur of big city museums, but still a real gem in this town. Now, I’ve only got a few weeks to visit it before the move, let’s hope we both get the motivation to enjoy our local museums.

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