The Human Element
The Human Element
Exhibiting objects and works of art in museums pose many problems, some of which may not be immediately recognizable. There are the readily thought of dangers of storage and display – using proper archival materials, controlling relative humidity and light exposure. What is more of a problem, however, are the uncontrollable elements, particularly, the human element.
While smaller objects are generally kept safe in cases, larger objects and works of art cannot be displayed in such a manner. Paintings and sculptures are obscured when viewed from behind a screen and their aesthetic value is depreciated, so they are generally open to public viewing. This, however, presents the problem of human contact. People are prone to want to touch displays, and taking photos or selfies with artwork has steadily become more popular, as seen in Image 1. It seems the larger and more popular the museum, such as the Louvre, and the more famous the work of art, such as the Mona Lisa, the worse the problem (Heritage 2013; Jones 2009). This is not only rude to other museum visitors and takes money from the museum gift shops sales but it is also harmful to the objects on display (Collections Conversations 2014b; DeRuiter 2010).
Entertainers taking selfies with the Mona Lisa has become its own trend (Heritage 2013).
“Theft is the most obvious danger to artifact preservation that people pose” (Collections Conversations 2014b), but there are more common dangers that many museum visitors do not realize. When taking photographs, not using flash is crucial, as light damage is cumulative. Light damage can permanently alter an object by participating in chemical reactions causing discoloration and fading. The oil and dirt from people’s hands can also cause similar damage, as well as the wearing away of surfaces from an object.
Museums often post signs and have guards to prevent such harmful behavior, yet they are regularly ignored by museum visitors and guards alike, as they fail to enforce the rules. Perhaps if museum visitors were educated on the damage their actions were causing, they would be less prone to try to photograph and touch priceless objects and works of art. Activities at museums can easily entertain and educate both adults and children with just a little effort from museum staff (Collection Conversations 2014a). Museums, such as the Getty Villa in California, offer permanent exhibits for both the visually impaired and the public-at-large that are available for touch. Museums may also conduct workshops where visitors are encouraged and educated on how to handle museum artifacts and works of art. Generally, these are replicas of more famous works of art, so that the original is still protected (The J. Paul Getty Trust 2014). Creating more of these special exhibits and touch tour programs, as well as opening them up to broader public, has the potential to help offset the damage to the primary exhibits, while at the same time educating and providing visitors with greater access to museum objects (Collections Conversations 2013). Without an understanding of the damage they are causing to museum collections and appreciation of preserving them for the future, museum visitors will continue to partake in such harmful behavior. Education, as always, is key.
2013 Managing Touch. Collections Conversations, July 17, 2013. North Carolina: Connecting to Collections, Raleigh, North Carolina <http://collectionsconversations.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/managing-touch/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.
2014a A C2C Badge? Collections Conversations, January 8, 2014. North Carolina: Connecting to Collections, Raleigh, North Carolina <http://collectionsconversations.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/a-c2c-badge/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.
2014b People Pose Preservation Dangers. Collections Conversations, February 25, 2014. North Carolina: Connecting to Collections, Raleigh, North Carolina <http://collectionsconversations.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/people-pose-preservation-dangers/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.
2010 Ten reasons why you shouldn’t take photos in museums. The Everywhereist <http://www.everywhereist.com/ten-reasons-why-you-shouldnt-take-photos-in-museums/>. Accessed 25 February 2014.
2013 Selfies: the dos and don’ts of the word of the year. Shortcuts Blog. The Guardian, New York, New York < http://www.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2013/nov/19/selfies-dos-donts-oed-word-of-the-year>. Accessed 25 February 2014.
The J. Paul Getty Trust
2014 Accessibility. The Getty Villa. The J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, California <https://www.getty.edu/visit/villa/plan/accessibility.html>. Accessed 25 February 2014.
2009 These tourist snappers are killing the Mona Lisa. Jonathan Jones on Art Blog. The Guardian, New York, New York <www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2009/mar/09/mona-lisa-tourist-snappers-louvre> Accessed 25 February 2014.