The Louvre in Paris is the world’s most visited museum with 8.8 million visitors in 2011 (click ‘here‘).
Big deal. When I was there, it seemed that most people were rushing to see only the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, and then scurrying to follow the flag-carrying tour guide to other Parisian landmarks. We were ushered into a small, dim – and already crowded – space where the ML was on display and just as we had caught a glimpse of it, we were shooed off by the guard as even more people poured into that room. It was indeed a very busy museum, but how much each visitor had learnt about ‘art’ or ‘history’ or ‘art history’ that day, I’m not sure at all.
Frankly, if I hadn’t have had any art-history background, the Lourve would have been just a blur of too-much-to-see-and-too-little-time. Room after room of paintings, sculptures, furniture, ceramics etc with minimal text and scant other sources of information do not make interesting exhibits, unless you already know what you are looking at.
The same goes for other large artifact-rich museums such as British Museum, Prado in Madrid, Taipei Palace Museum and Shanghai Museum. These are keen to show you their treasures ad-nauseum with little relevant information to help you make sense of the material overload. It is as if they are saying “Look at our stuff because they are the best” without caring much about how much visitors actually ‘learn’ about the objects.
Give me any day a quite museum that has lots of artifacts AND also lots of wall-text and other interpretive content. Better still if the exhibition is laid out in a non-conventional manner and/or with a controversial storyline/interpretation. At least when I finish looking at the objects and admiring their physical beauty, I can then choose to immerse myself in mental engagement with what the curators ‘say’ about them and how they fit into the historical/contemporary realities of when they were made/used.