Museum Musings – Seating and Museum Fatigue

One of the handicaps of working a lifetime in museums is that my observations of current practices are colored by reflections of how the profession has progressed (read, changed). This refers not only to the work being done in museums today, but also to emerging philosophies. From time to time, I would like to share my thoughts on what I’m seeing. That means I have to keep up with reading and, as the great detective Hercule Poirot would say, keep my grey matter active. Both good practices.

One writer who I occasionally read is Lee Rosenbaum and her periodic commentaries, Culture Grrl ( She is a journalist whose beat is the arts. I enjoy her perspective as she navigates current trends in the museum world. Her five decades of writing gives her access to previews and she also revisits exhibits afterward to see how regular visitors view them.

A recent visit over the holidays to the newly redesigned and greatly heralded MOMA in New York made her aware of several fundamental issues facing visitors: excruciating lines for tickets (buy on-line), the cloakroom (keep your coat on), restrooms (go to one on an upper level).

Rosenbaum also briefly mentions something I’ve become more aware of – seating. In fact, the title of the post includes the words “… Not Enough Chairs.” She writes that, “Every inch of seating on the premises (and, to MoMA’s credit, there are lots of opportunities to sit) was occupied by visitors  … . Many … were scrutinizing their phones; others just needed a rest. Even with benches and ottomans scattered everywhere, some weary visitors resorted to sitting on the lobby’s hard stairs.”

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Much has been written about museum fatigue. Here’s an interesting fact thanks to Museum Hack: Benjamin Ives Gilman’s original paper on the subject in Scientific Monthly, created all the way back in 1916 was one of the first to tackle this topic. Museum fatigue is not only a physical response, but also mental – perhaps a reaction to often poorly written and presented labels (another topic I might comment on). Is it the unforgiving floors, the amount of walking (on her trip to MOMA, Rosenbaum logged clocking 3.1 miles and 7,105 steps), or the shoes we might choose to wear on a museum visit?

In the past year or so, I’ve been noticing the lack of seating in our local institutions. I have rarely been a victim of museum fatigue, the result of being somewhat an Energizer Bunny and wearing the proverbial “sensible shoes.” It is catching up with me, though. And, there are times when I’d simply like to take a comfortable seat and spend some time contemplating the art surrounding me. Once I realized that there seemed to be a trend not to encourage visitors to linger I started taking photos to document the situation. The following come from three museums in our area.

Example I: When I asked about seating at this museum, the guard offered me to return to the front (not too far away) and get a folding stool they provide for kids. I did not.

Nowhere to sit

Example II: Lots of floor space in two galleries, nary a seat. I rarely watch videos, especially when I have to stand. How about you?

Example III: This is one of our city’s several private museums, comprised of a number of spacious warehouse-like galleries. Consider the seating offered in the top photo. I guess the intent was to look at the support columns. A long, narrow space housed beautiful photos, with no seating.

Beatutiful photos, no chance to linger with east

In closing, from the New Yorker –

Thanks to LifeHacker for the featured image of this post:

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