Museums such as the Louvre in Paris welcome more than twenty thousand people every day. It would be as if all the inhabitants of Zarautz, in the Basque Country, decided to go and visit the museum the same day. In fact, the Louvre museum surpassed its historical record in 2018 by obtaining 10.2 million views, an increase of 25% on the previous year. By 2012 it had already received 9.7 million visitors. Factors that may have contributed to this continued increase in visitors may include improved signage and infrastructure, access to online input and information, and a significant social media presence. With this positive statistic, the Louvre also managed to become the first art center in the world that has reached such a high number of visitors, according to the annual report made by the company AECOM, specializing in architecture, design and sustainability, together with the non-profit Themed Entertainment Association. All this, although the usual is to get to be alone for a moment next to the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci.The museum as experienceAlthough the case of the French museum is not extensive to all museums in general, allows us to raise a relevant topic in our time : the value of experiences. In Spain, visits to the 16 state museums surpassed 3 million people for the first time in 2019. A 1.8% increase over the previous year. The highest figure since records exist. What does this data tell us? Museums are not an isolated frontier but the knot of a vast open network where creators, works, institutions and consumers circulate, in constant exchange of information. All of them are linked by a series of relationships with very varied semantic loads. The appreciation of a painting, a sculpture or any other artistic piece exhibited in a museum mobilizes us and connects us with other places, spaces and resources. Visitors connect with their own interiority and that of other people, the authors, through these works. What happens in cases of massification? Does artistic appreciation change? An experience characterized by the crowding of visitors, what kind of satisfaction does it generate? Visitor queues before the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid).
MNCARSMassive visits vs. Empty museumsThe art journalist Joaquín Guzmán notes that «visiting a museum is an essentially intimate experience. When we come with an attentive and curious look we seek isolation, and almost inadvertently establish with the works and artists a close relationship, trying, although we do not always achieve, to avoid the noise existing in the crowded rooms». Therefore, a pleasant experience on a site like a museum could be incompatible with a human tide crowding a space that should be highly protected. The interest in art and culture, which has led to the massification of some museums, conflicts with the economic support needs of these places. Finding a balance between massification and accessibility, so as not to harm the enjoyment of the aesthetic experience, is not easy. Reduced visits in limited groups, access at unusual times or increased entry prices to deter are some of the alternative measures that many cultural spaces are taking to generate other conditions of relationship between spectators and pieces of art. Slow tourism applied to museums»Success is not the exorbitant audience, but the pleasant experience,» recalled Jorge García Gómez-Tejedor, head of restoration of the Reina Sofía Museum, in an interview, while also advocating for the organization and foresight to avoid massification. Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Gallery, Italy’s most visited museum, and promoter of measures to privilege «slow tourism,» sets out to «create a flow of people learning to know the pleasure of a slow visit, at best half an hour a day just to sit f rent to a canvas never seen before.» Slow tourism was reborn in the 1980s in Italy. And in Spain this philosophy of travel has been developed for some years. In fact, there are several localities and regions that encourage it and there is even a network that groups them, called Cittaslow, coordinated by the town hall of Pals, in Girona. On the other hand, there are other localities in Spain that have been identified as slow territories independently, as is the case of Menorca or others located in the north of Galicia.Intimate experiences and virtual museumsThe digitization of cultural heritage and the possibilities of making collections more accessible transform the intimate relationships that link the visitor to the works of art. In addition, creating digital connections between collections is interesting new to explore. Digital content from collections of archives, libraries and museums in a rich interactive medium allows access to new forms of experience. And, we could say, it changes the very idea of what experience should be. Perhaps the challenge is to create conditions for visitors to enjoy pleasant experiences, which require a different kind of perception, participating in the artistic legacies that inspire and shelter in museums. Art generates consciousness and therefore knowledge. Works of art are produced, lived and transformed every time they are perceived and cared for. It is possible to recognize them in a physical or virtual space, where we can say that they are «organic», that they «are». This article has been prepared with the collaboration of Gisella López Alvear, social communicator of the Henri Lenaerts Center.Ana Aliende Urtasun, Professor of Human and Social Sciences, Public University of NavarraThis article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.