(Picasso was a surrealist but not a dadaist. Nevertheless, that is your art trivia for the day.)
A couple of days ago, Da Loungebunny and I hit the Dada exhibit at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. We timed our visit to ensure we got to see and hear a performance of les ballets mechanique. It was all terribly exciting. An outing. And not just an outing, but an outing with nice company and delightfully raucous music.
The mechanical orchestra plays twice a day, at 1 and 4. I checked the website for today (Saturday) to make sure it would be playing, and then Husband and I went downtown. Let me repeat: Husband and I went downtown. To a museum. On the National Mall. On the last day of the Cherry Blossom Festival. On purpose. We subjected ourselves to this very specific form of torture so that Husband could hear the mechanical orchestra.
We didn’t get there by 1, so we drank coffee and then actually braved the exhibit (and the terrifying crush of people) until 4. It’s a good exhibit, even with the weekend crowds, but I suggest you go during the week if you actually want to be able to see it. We plan to go back one morning so Husband can spend more time. We expected that. He can’t hear the orchestra in the morning, however, so we waited it out.
4:00 came and went.
We went down to the lobby to leave. I was convinced we were going to miss it if we left. The eternal optimist, I was sure it was just running late. Since there were two people at the information desk and they weren’t in the process of helping anyone I stopped and asked the woman at the desk if the performance was still going to happen. I asked politely. Most people, when they’ve in actuality been terribly rude, preface a story like this with “I asked politely.” I, however, mean it. I worked at an info desk. Even if my eyeballs were being devoured by fire ants, I would feel compelled to smile and politely phrase any question I asked at an info desk. I feel bad for anyone who takes questions at an info desk all day.
The woman snapped at me that the only performance scheduled was for 1:00, (in a tone that suggested she believed I personally had hacked the website and changed the schedule), told me other people (lepers, I derived from her tone) were under the same mistaken impression, and then turned her back on me to end the conversation.
If she’d just politely said the listing was an error it would have been nothing more than a minor disappointment, but giving me a tongue-lashing?
I don’t care if 500 people have just asked you the same question, if your job (paid or volunteer) is to provide information and it’s so difficult for you to, you know, provide information in – if not a polite tone – a civil one maybe you have the wrong job.
The saddest part is, over the years many students have complained to me about how badly some docents at the NGA have treated them because they looked like poor students, and I never paid it much attention. Now I wonder if it’s part of the accepted institutional culture. That’s a shame, because both wings and the sculpture garden are lovely places. The West Gallery is in serious need of a signage overhaul and both museums ought to seriously renovate and/or maintain their restrooms (as long as I’m picking on the place I ought to mention that), but otherwise the exhibits are generally very nice, the theatre is nice, and the interior of the West Gallery is as nice as some of the art. And yes, I know there are about a thousand people working there and they aren’t all mean. I have in fact known some very lovely people who worked there. I don’t think any of them are still there, now that I think about it. Only one I can think of off the top of my head, at any rate.
But I digress. It’s just acceptable to treat the public badly, even, if the public does generally suck. The generalized sucking of the public is beside the point. You don’t have to be particularly nice to people, you just need to not be rude. Especially if you’re also constantly holding out your hand for donations.
I just doublechecked the website and I did not read it wrong:
April 8, Saturday
10:15 Gallery Talk: Introductory Slide Overview: Cezanne in Provence
12:30 Film on Art: Cezanne in Provence (eba)
1:00 Music/Player Pianos: George Antheil’s score for the Fernand Leger film, Le Ballet mecanique (1924) (eb)
2:00 Film Series: Billy Wilder at 100: Sabrina (eba)
4:00 Music/Player Pianos: George Antheil’s score for the Fernand Leger film, Le Ballet mecanique (1924) (eb) (emphasis added)
Go ahead, NGA. Hit me up for money again. I dare you.
Truth be told, there’s a truly dadaistic element to housing the exhibit in a fancy series of museums (it’s a travelling show) and advertising performances that don’t happen, then treating the audience as if the absence of scheduled art is their own fault. So maybe the joke is on me, after all…