Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day 4.362: Institutional fun

We had an excellent visit to the Albany Institute of History & Art today - something we never quite got around to during the holiday period. Yes - it was excellent but I do have a few issues with it.

The Institute has many great features for us. It has a very nicely supplied kids hands-on room, it's small in size, but stocked with a good variety of interesting items well presented and right now has the Kid Stuff exhibition of toys from earlier generations - most of which are still available today. However, they really give the impression they don't want us to visit.

Firstly, there's the frosty reception. Seriously - would it hurt to smile or to make us feel welcome? Then there's the signs - no photography, don't touch, keep your voice down. OK I get it, I don't even mind it in principle, but somehow they make it seem like a bigger deal than they need to.

It turns out that the second-floor galleries are completely photography-free and that is where the Kid Stuff exhibit currently resides. This is unfortunate. First, let me say that I understand that sometimes photography in galleries and museums is forbidden because of concerns over copyright etc. or simply forced on the galleries by the owners of the material on display, I think that this is a mistake, but I understand it and would never fight it. Having said that, I do find it hard to believe that anyone would look at photographs of pieces of art and then decide to skip the trip to the gallery. People who are happy with looking at such reproductions were probably not that likely to go in the first place and others are more likely to show up if they see interesting items advertised. If the photos are for personal mementos then so what? - maybe it discourages a few sales of an exhibition book - but again, I can't imagine this is a big financial effect. Secondly, can I remind you that the current exhibit is a bunch of old children's toys. It's pretty extraordinary that they would object to me taking a picture of my daughter playing Twister or playing with a yo-yo. I also happen to know that the materials belong to the Institute, so there is no owner-in-the-background forcing their hands.

Anyway, here is a picture outside the galleries:

The exhibition itself is great. There are several toys to play with as well as very interesting pieces about their history. We enjoyed 'walking' Slinkys down a set of specially provided stairs and Exile #4 asked a Magic 8-Ball if I would have a good day tomorrow and it said "Yes" so that's nice.

There was a craft project - coloring and making shadow-puppet style fish which E5N1 had almost boundless patience for which was great to see. He and I ended up going back after a quick look around the permanent collection on the third floor while the girls took their time in looking around. The lady who was running this project was very friendly and apparently happy to be almost-overrun with children keen to take part.

Amongst the descriptive material, I discovered that it was in the early 1960's that Mr Potato Head stopped relying on a real potato making it all the more surprising that both Exile #2 and I are convinced we played with the older version as children. Also, the name "Frisbee" was added to the original name by Wham-O because people were calling their "Pluto Platter" product that after the pie dishes from the Frisbie Pie Company that were sometimes supposedly used in a similar way.

I did manage to get a slightly more cheery greeting in response to my thanks as we were leaving - but maybe they were just pleased that we were on our way out!

Here are the puppets that Exile #4, E5N1 and I made, demonstrated by the young Exiles once we were safely out on the public streets of the city of Albany:

All in all, we had a really good time, but seriously...does it have to be so, you know, serious?


  1. One of the reasons we neglected to bring children was that we didn't realise how "hands on" the "Kids stuff" exhibition would be. For example, Pollock's toy museum in London is all behind glass. Plus marks for letting kids play with the etch-a-sketch, slinkys yo-yos etc...

    "No photography" and "keep your voice down" makes sense in the small galleries of the permanent collection on the 3rd floor. Were they really trying to enforce this in "Kids stuff"?

  2. To be fair, I think that it was just the "no photography" rule - but there is no doubt that they meant it in that exhibition.

  3. I think no photo rules in galleries are usually to discourage flash photography, which can damage some works, and the general cluelessness of the general public while looking through a viewfinder/at a screen and ignoring what's around them. Most people are either unable or unwilling to turn off the automatic flash so "no photography" is easier than "no flash photography".

    In those situations I go by the "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" rule...

  4. We discussed that possibility, but in this case it was clear that that was not the point as at least one of the signs called out "including video" on the no photography signs.

    I think if the general reception had been friendlier I might have discussed it with them, but they don't have a customer-service vibe as I might have mentioned ;)

  5. Have you been to Kidspace at MassMoca?

    I agree with the frosty vibe there, and I work in an art museum. I'm actually surprised the Albany Institute isn't more integrated into the city's social life. The Brooklyn Museum had First Fridays that were like huge parties with cocktails, and it really felt like a place people felt welcome. I feel that important opportunities are not being taken advantage of.

  6. Kidspace @ MassMoca - yes we have!. Now there is a place that I am keen to go back to.

    I'm glad to hear that we're not the only ones getting frosty vibes! I quite agree about missed opportunities, I can only imagine that they have mixed feelings about getting more visitors.

  7. I agree with the assessment of the atmosphere at AIHA, and it's yet another reason I don't bother to go there. The other reason is that when we have bothered, we found the actual exhibits to be *just* okay, not really worth the hassle of the drive. Or the stinkeye at reception. Note that my kids aren't toddlers either, and are very quiet and well-behaved in public. Though I have to admit, some of the stinkeye seemed to also be directed at my husband and myself, so it may not just be a kid thing. We were never sure if it was a kid/parent issue the desk guy had, or if it was a racial one (hubby's black, I'm white, kids a nice mix of both).

    I loved the Brooklyn Museum when we lived there, but unfortunately, we moved away before having kids, so getting there takes more planning. We have noticed that visits to museums in NYC in general are always welcoming to the kids, no issues at all at The Met, MOMA, etc.

  8. Sad to hear of your experience. My kids are also *generally* well behaved. They certainly hadn't had chance to give a bad impression by the time we reached the desk to go in.

    My guess is it's neither a certain age nor a certain race that they disapprove of - just all visitors :)


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