De Young Museum in curmudgeon: 10 things that didn’t help the experience

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Art Museums crack open young minds and pour in bravery. They make us think outside of our boxes (those selfish things that are covered this year in Bernie or Trump stickers) and look at them from new selfish boxes, maybe even from a perspective where the artist selfishly thinks they are outside of a box. The de Young Museum in San Francisco is no different. Famous paintings by artists like Diego Rivera, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso titillate the imagination inside, as do other pieces of art, including Mayan artifacts and breathtaking Hawaiian feather work. It’s a beautiful place, first and foremost, and worth visiting, as are all Museums.

But the de Young left a lot to be desired in comparison to other museums when viewed through the lens of a first time visitor with no idea what to expect, or even how to get there. The following ten points are observed from that perspective.

  • Could not find parking. Are there signs anywhere? Is there really an underground parking area? Where is it? Do I need to know a guy who knows a guy to find it? On a Saturday, during an opening, seek parking in Golden Gate Park wherever you can find it and just hike in, even if it’s pouring rain. Parking should really be the first amenity.
  • Terrible signage in the park. Not until you’ve found a spot along the busy roadway do you see small “You Are Here” maps and only then do you know if you were luckily enough to park close to your destination. Usually you’re about a mile away. Consider some clearly visible signs. Please.
  • Signage on the de Young building’s exterior. Is it a myth? On March 12th, 2016, the only indicator the building was indeed the de Young Museum happened to be a giant, pinkish Oscar de le Renta banner. Maybe put the name outside in someplace clearly visible.
  • Long waits for tickets. With the de la Renta opening, lines were long and boring. There were three people operating ticket sales, one reserved for “will call” geniuses and two for the not-so-genius people that thought coming on a Saturday would be fun. One of the people operating ticket sales went on break, which leaves one to handle the long line, and leaves those standing in line wondering if the Museum has a staffing shortage. When it’s busy, see if there are extra bodies available.
  • Lunch at restaurant a confusing mess. You can simply grab items 7-11 style or you can get a menu, which you bring to the register (there may be two registers) and then order. From there you get a cafeteria style tray, your drinks and a number. Someone brings food to you later once you have found a place to sit amidst the throng. Luckily a meal for two is only about $50, which isn’t bad if you’re a Hilton. Order fast food style, order cafeteria style, or order menu style. Pick one.
  • They use the sticker system. Apparently, the two people operating the ticketing are supposed to tell visitors to peel a sticker off a portion of the ticket and affix it to their clothing. This gets you access to the galleries, as apparently just buying a ticket and wandering around just isn’t done there. Expect to be stopped if you haven’t put your sticker on. Consider making the sticker thing clear when the visitor pays.
  • No clear flow. If you use your intuition to wander the halls of larger museums, expect it to kick the bucket at the de Young. Is everything up the stairs, to the left as you leave the café, or what? Signage seemed lacking in this area as well. There was no rhyme or reason to finding it all and the little map, which most of us have folded up and put away by this point, do little to help. Consider directional arrows.
  • Truck stop bathrooms. The building has opted to herd the visitors into a single bathroom area, located not in the center of the building, but at one end. Should you have to go, hope that it isn’t a busy day and hope you’re not all the way at the other end of the Museum. Because that would suck. Consider more plumbing.
  • A minor point. Many museums offer books for bibliophiles to stick on their shelf. They’re all around the same size (art books) and give a little info on the galleries and their permanent collection. Not so with the de Young. Their art book, the one titled Inside and Out, is small enough to fit in the glove compartment and does not contain as much information. That and it doesn’t match on the shelf. Gift shop staffers, however, proved to be quite nice, which was a bonus. Consider a bigger, cooler book.
  • Stopped for suspicious purse. Expect a security person to stop you if you’re wearing a backpack or purse strapped to your back. Apparently this is also something those two people at the front desk are supposed to share with visitors but don’t. At least not every time. Consider making the rules clearer so not to disrupt someone’s museum experience by making them feel like they just got in trouble.

Consider The Portland Art Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, even the Phoenix Art Museum, and their layouts. Most have these matters hammered out in an easy to comprehend way, even for introverted, anxious bibliophiles. Especially those who are visiting for the very first time.

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