When I was a child, I saw a film where two siblings – a girl and a boy – who ran away from home and lived hidden inside an art museum. If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, the girl, who was the eldest of the children, was very fond of a sculpture representing an angel. When the children were discovered, the owner of the building where the museum functioned challenged the girl to answer a tricky riddle, which she solved, gaining the rigid-but-wise woman’s favour. I don’t know the title of the movie, or the setting. It could have been the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, but I can’t be sure.
As I write this, I’m in the middle of reading “Wittgenstein’s Mistress” by David Markson, where the unreliable narrator recalls living in art museums all around the globe – including the Louvre and The Met – in a world suddenly left uninhabited. Of course, it could all be in her head.
Every time I visit a city, I make a point of visiting at least one art museum. If my schedule doesn’t allow me to, then that city is automatically put on the list of cities I have to return to.
Art museums are the loudest quiet places I know. There are so many voices and so many ideas, visions and languages floating around that I can’t contain myself. I’m giddy and have a big smile on my face. My eyes open as wide as they can, to take in as much as possible.
I love the Ancients, and I love the Old Masters, the Impressionists and the avant-gardes. I sometimes like to go through rooms in correct chronological order and witness the evolution of styles from Raphael to Rubens and, further on, from Monet to Van Gogh and Dalí. Other times, I just move through the rooms randomly.
To me, it’s not as much about individual works as it is about the experience as a whole. Seeing a famous work that I only knew from picture books is, of course, a joy, but they are not the only ones worth seeing. Although I do admit that I once went inside London’s National Gallery just to have one more look at the distorted skull in Holbein’s Ambassadors.
I sometimes wonder if, like the children in that unidentified movie, I could live inside an art museum. I wonder if there are small rooms on the basement where one could make a mini-home. I wonder if ghosts would come to chat at night. If possible, I’d prefer the room not too close to the Ancient exhibits, because I’d much rather be visited by Leonardo da Vinci than Belphegor.
Of course, the chances of this happening are not very high, but I’m pretty sure that art museums have seen many everyday miracles – the kind that only seem small but are, in fact, life-changing.
For instance, I believe it would be very easy to fall in love inside an art museum. Provided, of course, that the person is right, it wouldn’t matter whether the two of you went there together or just bumped into each other while trying to get a closer look at some sneaky detail on a canvas in the Renaissance room. The atmosphere inside would surely work as a catalyst and one has only to seize it.
If romance is not on your list, an art museum will always be a good place for spending time with friends.
And the good news is that one doesn’t even have to be knowledgeable about art history to enjoy an art museum – though I will always be fond of the boy who actually listened to my yapping about bird symbolism in the art of Max Ernst. If there are benches, you can, of course, just sit down and talk, while watching the other visitors watching the art. Or, you can simply take a walk by yourself, and collect your thoughts knowing you that are in good company.
Anca Rotar is a Romanian-born writer, over-thinker and caffeine addict. She is the author of two books, Hidden Animals and Before It Sets You Free, both available from Amazon.com. Among her interests, which she finds it hard to shut up about, she counts fashion, yoga, city breaks and deadpan sarcasm. She is also currently studying Japanese, so wish her luck. You can sample bits of Anca’s creative writing here.