Museum Bound? Skip the Acoustiguide and Ditch the Docent, Advises Joe Queenan

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By Stephanie Murg Comment

“Just look at the paintings and relax.” Better yet, laugh. Such is the advice of Joe Queenan, whose latest Wall Street Journal column takes the form of “three tips for surviving the art museum.” His first rule? Avoid the acoustiguide. “Art phones have turned museum-going into a dreary chore,” writes Queenan, who we suspect didn’t opt for the experience-enhancing headphones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent Alexander McQueen blockbuster. “It’s like being back in high school, where you’re expected to memorize everything.” He’s also no fan of docents, who he describes as “blathering idiots who think they missed their calling as stand-ups” and “living proof that people should not be allowed to retire, because in retirement, the pathologically garrulous cease to be merely annoying and become truly dangerous.” (We’ll spare you the bit about dispatching NATO warplanes on a docent destruction mission.) Focus on his third tip: Don’t be afraid to laugh at the art. “If an art museum is clicking on all cylinders, you shouldn’t be able to get out of there without doubling over in laughter at least three times,” writes Queenan, who offers examples ranging from Francois Boucher‘s toddler hunters to comtemporary works. “If you can’t laugh at Anthony van Dyck’s boozed-up cavaliers, Thomas Gainsborough’s cadaverous, blue-faced debutantes, or Damien Hirst’s 13-foot shark in a few thousand gallons of formaldehyde, you’re really missing out on some great fun.”