Although I had written previously on paranoia and photography, every now and then something different happens that gives one hope. I had been in Washington DC last week and having a free day, I thought I would visit some of it’s fine museums. It was a shitty rainy day and being in a sort of negative mood, I had assumed I would be hassled if I brought my camera with me. But alas, it the last moment, I decided to in the event the weather cleared.
I arrived at the Freer Gallery on the mall just as the rain was stopping and as I entered, I fully expected the usual museum welcome of frisking, metal detecters, laser lights and officious security guys who were just too fucked up for our military, so they ended up terrorizing innocent tourists. To my surprise, there was none of this. Admission was free. (all National Museum are free because our congress in a rare moment of clarity, decided that our art actually belonged to the people so why charge them to look at it. Even the Europeans cannot outdo this and if they ever had such policies, they only apply to EUC members and the rest of us get hosed at the admission window. In America, these rights are for visitors and citizens alike.)
In any case, I was welcomed by a pleasant-looking guard who politely asked to look in my camera bag and upon doing so waved me inside. No metal detector, blinking laser lights, no loudspeakers uttering instructions in German, no searchlights—just a few steps through a small gate and I was in. It was simple.
As I moved from museum to museum, it was the same all around. The only restriction was on my umbrella as the guards would always ask me to check it. I assume it was because they did not want me to knock anything over with it.
A few years ago in the Boca Raton Museum of Art, I was asked to leave because in spite of their numerous signs all over the place, instructing visitors to check their cameras at the door. (Like Dodge City) I refused to leave my Leica with a $3.50/hour “security guard”. After a fond “fuck you, I’m outta here,” I split and never went back. I was always wary of museums photo policies and always entered these places with trepidation, fully expecting to be given the “third degree’ for bringing a camera with me. Most places just forgive you but the Boca Raton Museum of Art is probably run by Florida lawyers who think they have to forbid everything except breathing (and only very softly— no heavy breathing please) to avoid the inevitable lawsuit. The fact that it is a third rate museum escapes them. Most museums, especially in Italy only forbid photography and keep a wary eye on visitors with cameras around their neck. I coukl figure out why they did this. I understand why flash is forbidden to protect the art but pictures? I could only assume that it was to to protect the copyrights of artists long dead but I was wrong.
In the National Gallery of Art at the end of the mall, in the Modern East Wing, I entered a room of weird Spanish figures and sculptures from the Inquisition. A guard approached me and told me that photographs were not allowed in this room only but I was free to take pictures in the rest of the museum. I nodded. As I was leaving the room, he again approached me and said that the reason photos were not allowed was because they did not own the art—it was on loan. Another mystery solved.
America might have its problems—certainly how we deal with the rest of the world, but on the mall in front of the Capitol, we are a beacon of sanity as it pertains to taking pictures in museums.