Monday, April 06, 2009

On Jacket Holding, Photography, and the AGO (very long)

Imagine being told that you are holding your jacket improperly while perusing the art on display at an art gallery. That happened to me on Saturday, when I finally managed to check out the renovated AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). But first, this other AGO story:

I knew that I wanted to take photos of the Frank Gehry makeover, so I made sure that I familiarized myself with AGO's revised photography guidelines. My reading of this policy boiled down to this: you can take photos of lots of things, as long as it is not an installation or piece of art. Let's avoid, for the moment, the crazy and indefensible argument that there are copyright restrictions that prevent the gallery from permitting photography of its exhibits. Wait, let's not avoid that. Let me say that the AGO has no idea what it is talking about. Photos of exhibits for personal use or for criticism or study cannot be restricted by the copyright act and it is clear that this policy is really concerned with profit-making motives, from sales of postcards, etc. I have taken photos in the Met and MOMA with no problem at all. Clearly, there needs to be a no flash and no tripod rule.

Maybe this is a good place to mention that the current admission costs are crazy. $18 for an adult? I think that if the AGO lowered admission prices, they'd get more visitors. I might go more often.

But, back to the story. I took photos of the barnacle staircase, Walker Court, and the Galleria Italia, as permitted, even though the latter contains exhibits, which contravenes AGO's own policy! Whatever. After peering out a window, I turned around and saw a colorful wall. Here is part of it:

A security guard ran over to tell me that this was off limits to photography. Now, I took the photo because I thought it was an interior design element. Turns out, it was art. Who knew? After all, it fit the wall perfectly, and even continued into that little space above a door frame. In other words, it looked like wall paper. Which leads me to wonder why so many installations at the AGO are designed to perfectly fit available space. As such, some seem like artificial creations. I wonder about the idea of creating a piece of art to fit a gallery space exactly, like this one.

Anyway, Mr. Security gave me the lecture, which I already knew, but the dude wouldn't accept my explanation. He just kept going over it and over it. When he finally stopped talking, I ran ahead and to catch up with my two friends. Imagine my surprise when I saw people snapping photos left, right, and centre of all manner of exhibits, throughout our stay. The difference is that they all had point & shoot digital cameras or cell phone cameras. No security intervened. I even saw people in tour snapping photos with not a single word from the tour guide. These days, if you have an SLR, you are either a terrorist or some sort of copyright pirate.

I guess I should also point out that I had no intention of running around photographing every piece of art, but I would have taken shots of two or three things, if I could have, but that's it. I was there to look at the art, not photograph it. By the way, have you seen that advertisement for Prince Edward Island (or some other Maritime province) on TV that features the interior of AGO in contravention of AGO's stated policy? I guess if you have the cash, then copyright really doesn't mean anything.

So far, not so interesting, right? Well, two hours later in some other part of the gallery, a different security guard informed me that I was carrying my jacket improperly and in such a way that might "impact the art." Jesus! I passed numerous security personnel and no one had made such a comment. This guy clearly has issues. Besides the fact that I had never ventured close enough to accidentally come into contact with any art, I am a grown man and quite aware of my personal space. I considered insulting his shoes, but decided to continue on my way to a section with less anally-retentive, less authoritarian security guards.

But, back to photography. I would have thought that the AGO would relish the idea of someone posting a story on the web about a recent visit to the gallery, maybe with a few images, to show the world how wonderful it is. That would be good (and free) publicity. Instead, the AGO just makes a few people angry, who then write posts like this, which is bad (and free) publicity. If you follow the link to the photography guidelines, you will note that many of the comments are from people pissed off by the policy.

I am not sure what was worse: the restrictions on photography or the ludicrous jacket carrying policy. Whetever the case, it will probably be a while before I am ready to return and confront the praetorian guards.

(Oh, and I didn't mention the other incident, mostly because this is way too long already).


tweetey30 said...

I have to admit I have never been in just an art gallery but have been told they are strict.. From this I dont think I will venturing to far into one anytime soon.

mister anchovy said...

Yes, most terrorists have SLRs. No doubt.

Deodand said...

Holy cow, you didn't steal the idea of stripes from that guy did you? That was clearly his idea!

Super Happy Jen said...

We were confronted by a security guard at the AGO when my husband was taking a picture of me. Perhaps he thought I was a work of art? Anyway he gave some BS about if we let everyone take pictures than everyone would take pictures (or something like that). It was a point and click though, so no SLR descrimination. Though it seemed everyone and his uncle were taking pictures.

zydeco fish said...

Just noticed that the May issue of Toronto Life features a photo shoot in the AGO and you can see some art! Hmmm...