Currently we are gripped in unseasonably warm weather. It's a welcome relief after what has been a very long and snowy winter. What makes this week double-plus-good is that the kids are enjoying March break. We have been filling our days with lots of walks and outdoors things but today we spent some time indoors looking at pictures of the outdoors.
Anyway - we went to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection - a real showcase for the Group of Seven. My daughter had recently studied the Group of Seven in school and wanted to get a look at the real thing. After a trip across some winding and bumpy springtime roads, the wee lad vomited into a bag in the back seat a few minutes before arriving at our final destination.
After a less than welcoming reception at the front desk, we entered the gallery and started looking at pictures. I saw a very interesting ink drawing by Tom Thompson which showcased a poem excerpt by Henry Van Dyke called The Footpath of Peace. My son kind of liked it so I took out his camera, making sure that the flash was turned off, and was about to snap a picture when I heard an officious voice from behind.
"There's no photography allowed in here."
I lowered the camera with what must have been a puzzled look on my face.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't realize that photos weren't allowed."
"Well, there's a sign right behind you!" I add the exclamation mark to illustrate the snottiness her words were saturated with.
I turned, looked and almost laughed. There, stuck to a door post - behind me - ie not visible to someone entering the gallery (as I just had) - was a decal of a camera surrounded with a circle with a line through it. The thing was no bigger than a cigarette package. It wasn't even black - it was a washed out grey - I wish I had a picture of it, but...
Seriously. The art displayed in their gallery is so impressive that a tiny little decal doesn't stand a chance of being noticed. If there's to be no photography, tell me about it before I enter. There is no posted camera policy in the lobby that I could find - I checked.
I don't understand what the issue with photos is. I have pictures of The Night Watch taken in full view of the security guard at the Rijksmuseum - in fact I think he's in a few of them.
Is it a question of preservation? I don't think so. If a camera flash can adversely affect the pigments et al in the painting, what the hell is all the lux spilling from those miles of track lighting doing? Besides, these pictures were all originally painted by guys with fishguts on their hands on the shores of lakes with the wind blowing the ash from the cigarettes dangling from their lips onto the canvas. A little flash from my kid's camera ain't doing squat.
Is it copyright? I don't think so. I doubt anyone will confuse my digital photo with an authorized print, let alone pay for it - especially with my kid in the photo standing next to the painting.
I think it more likely that there is a climate of privilege at this gallery. I think they don't allow photos simply because they can. It is their art and I should feel grateful that they let me pay an arm and a leg to go look at it. No one in the entire gallery seemed to grasp the concept of customer service. I don't expect anyone to kiss my ass - that's not customer service - but like it or not, a gallery is a service organization. They have a packaged product that they are selling and renting to the public and in that situation the staff have an obligation to their patrons and customers. The chief obligation is to be polite. Not a lot of politeness going on at the McMichael Collection today.
Another thing that struck me as odd. One of the walkie-talkie packing...Nazis is too strong a word...lets call her a ...matron - yeah, that works. One of the walkie-talkie packing matrons took great pride in telling my wife that they had only ten percent of the paintings on display.
You have all this space - they do - and you keep 90% of your stuff hidden from view? Why the hell would you not have them on the walls or send them on tour? Why would you keep them hoarded away?
Ahhhh. I know. Someone might take a picture of one...