Should I Sleep at the Museum?
Even without beautiful dreams, sleep can be a thoroughly aesthetic experience.
Ever since two children got locked in the Metropolitan in the E. L. Konigburg’s “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basel E. Frankweiler” (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Nights-at-the-Museums.html#ixzz1c00VVRtc), people other than guards and thieves have been spending overnight in museums. Most have been children – particularly in natural history museums where they can visit and sleep with the dinosaurs. Science museums also do a brisk night trade – the Boston Science Museums takes in almost 20,000 sleep-ins a year.
But adults have been spending later and later hours in art museums – resting and sleep in innovative ways.
Rotterdam’s Boymans van Beuningen is a great repository of 17th century Dutch and other old masters. For a fee, visitors can walk through the galleries with a guard in a grand private viewing and then bed down the night in a special museum apartment. The Rubin Museum in New York, whose magnificent Himalayan collection was mainly funded through the “savings” of a managed care conglomerate, creates far more elaborate spectacles.
Rubin night-time guests can pay to enjoy both an individual and collective “dream in.” (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/10/25/bloomberg_articlesLTLF9N0YHQ0X.DTL)
Bringing their own sleeping bags or air mattresses, they are healthily fed, instructed on dreams by docents, have discussions about dreams and the interpenetration of different realities with Tibetan lamas, and then lie down next to a work of art that that night is all their own. On waking, they examine their dreams with psychologists and psychoanalysts before scarfing down hot Tsampa cereal and returning to the dusty world.
The Advantages of Sleeping with Art
1. It’s fun to go through an art museum as a truly private experience. It can be especially memorable looking and thinking about art when most everyone else has “gone home.”
2. For some museumgoers art represents more than their national history or the masterworks of different cultures – it attains a spiritual feeling rather akin to religion. Spending the night in a museum, perhaps even more than sleeping surrounded by art, provides a chance for a kind of “closeness” with objects and symbols. The type of conversation one has with a work of art is different in the changed consciousness of night, where the connections with history, power and immortality take on a new, shifting character.
3. With the chance to look at art at leisure comes the opportunity for states of relaxed concentration that can enhance looking and feeling, making each deeper.
4. Since sleep works to anneal the memories of the past 24 hours with all of one’s long term memory, the art you see will often transfer and transform into one’s dreams – on museum nights and later nights.
5. Museums tend to be quiet, the temperatures cool. Despite the coldness of the floors and lack of facilities, a very restful sleep is possible.
6. The response to art may change, especially for what you have seen at night, making your response more specific and personal.
The Artistic Legacy of Sleep
Sleepovers have all sorts of promise and peril for museums, ranging from the costs and concerns of security to the advantage of showcasing their collections in whole new ways. For children the experience is often lifelong, as they sometimes come to work in or support museums later in life – or more frequently bring their children. Such kinds of attachment are highly valuable to institutions that survive on donations and public and private funding.
But for some the connections with art will always remain more personal. Heinz Berggruen, one of the more famous art dealers of the 20th century, was unhappy with New York’s Metropolitan’s Museum’s cavalier treatment of his donation of work of Swiss artist Paull Klee. When he sold his modern paintings to the city of Berlin for the “basement” price of $110 million (it would be billions today,) he stipulated a separate codicil in his contract. In the building that would house the new Berggruen museum would rise on the roof a private apartment where he could live and visit his art any time.
Which he did until he died.
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