Will Gompertz reviews Monet and Architecture at London's National Gallery ★★★★☆

From BBC - April 13, 2018

This is what you will hear at the National Gallery's blockbuster Monet and Architecture exhibition, which opened to the public this week:

"Excuse me."

"Excuse me."

"Excuse me."

"Can I just"



It is the sound art-lovers make when gathered en masse in a confined space full of eye-popping pictures by one of the finest painters to have ever picked up a brush.

Call it the Monet Mumble: the polite but insistent whispers uttered by well-dressed ladies and gentleman making their way around packed galleries.

Much has been made about the amount of money the National Gallery is charging punters for the privilege of seeing its Monet show while having their toes trodden on (I was on the receiving end twice, and the apologetic perpetrator once).

If you have the audacity to go for the 'Admission Only' option and ignore the explicit and assumed 'suggested' 2 donation, tickets purchased online for those over 11 years old cost 18 during the week and 20 at the weekend (they are 2 more if bought in the gallery). That works out at around 25p a painting (there are 78 in the show).

Value for money, you could argue.

Particularly when you take into account the ever-increasing costs incurred by museums when putting on such ambitious, 'once-in-a-lifetime' exhibitions.

That said, there must be scope to be a bit more innovative and flexible on pricing when planning a sure-fire box office smash, which will be too pricey for too many (e.g. students, families with teenagers, the currently unemployed, low paid workers).

The gallery has clearly thought about the visitor experience.

For the first time, there are no wall texts beside the paintings, just a number, which you then refer to in the small booklet that comes with your ticket.

The upshot is rooms full of earnest, bespectacled faces peering down at this bijou publication like race-goers studying the formbook at the Grand National.

From time-to-time we look up and cross-reference text with picture, before an "excuse me" and move on.

It is a better system than having mini essays by pictures, which causes large huddles of people to gather to the side of paintings like giant barnacles. But I'd prefer a half-way house that had a sparse wall caption stating the artwork's date and title, and a booklet for the details.

As for the show itself, well

It is very good.

Although the title is misleading. Monet had no formal interest in architecture.

Canaletto painted architecture.

You could argue Ed Ruscha paints architecture.


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