I turn the corner and am jolted by fluid splashes of color, original blues, greens, and oranges, not their recreated versions. Then I hear myself sigh, easing from the city into this quiet space.
When Monet designed the Water Lilies galleries in Le Musée de l’Orangerie, he specified that they should be experienced in silence. Viewers should whisper, step softly. It’s a space set apart—a cathedral built in reverence for the absence of sound.
When I see a Rothko painting, the feeling is akin to that moment between waking and sleep when one is delayed—happily—in an absence of category. A purity of breath and stillness without effort. A cessation of being. But to be transported to these realms by his art, I must see the original painting in person. Otherwise the image has no effect.
And this is the enduring strength of Rothko in the age of the smartphone.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption, the world had seen a surge in international travel and tourism, forcing many museums and other popular tourist destinations to take crowd control measures.
For example, the Louvre renovated the Mona Lisa’s exhibition space last year and improved traffic flow to better handle the painting’s many, many visitors, who largely view the painting through a sea of cell phones and cameras, let’s be honest.
I felt overwhelmed by how much there was to see, and I didn’t know how to structure my visit. I wanted to see everything, and simultaneously, I longed to take my time with the artworks. Then, as I was meandering through the Greek and Roman statuary, all of a sudden I came to a halt…
“A museum is doing its job when this relationship between object and visitor is reciprocal: The visitor attentively observes the object and perhaps learns information about it, and she then applies her own experiences and “cultural baggage” to give the object meaning…”