On Monday, April 16, 2012, I visited the LACMA Museum to see the two Latin-themed exhibits: ‘In Wonderland’ and ‘Children of the Plumed Serpent’. I am in my seventies, with some physical limitations and a helpful cane. It had been several years since my last visit to LACMA and I noticed the positive changes. However, there are still areas that could use improvement and when I tried to bring some of them to the attention of a person with authority I ran into a brick wall. Up to that point I had actually forgotten how little the museum staff values any feedback from the public even though the museum exists to serve the public, uses public and donated funds to run its programs, and keeps appealing for more of those funds. Yet there is as total unwillingness to be in any way accountable or even seriously listening. There is no mechanism in place for eliciting public feedback.
As a museum patron I wanted to give some feedback to a person in charge. I was directed to the staff entrance. After the receptionist had checked with the department I was told in no uncertain terms that the name of the curator could not be divulged to me, much less would there be a possibility of talking to the curator. By now I had walked all over the museum to find the staff entrance. My impression is that LACMA is of course in compliance with all the regulations of the American with Disabilities Act. However, I found that lack of signage was making it burdensome to easily locate the elevators. The Children of the Plumed Serpent exhibit featured a continuous loop of a short film of about 8-10 minutes. Yet there was no seating available. I wanted to see the film but was too fatigued to remain standing. I asked if there was maybe a chair. There was not. So I decided to sit on the floor, against an empty wall, away from the flow of traffic. The guard instantly came to inform me that I was not allowed to sit down. She got agitated when I remained on the floor. Please understand: I do not blame the guard. She thought she was doing her job. I blame the curator who set up the movie screening but made no provisions for any kind of seating and I blame the museum administration who obviously is lacking in sensitivity to the needs of handicapped patrons and is negligent in training the guards to those needs.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘In Wonderland’. The way the space was subdivided for the exhibit was creative and pleasing. The art works assembled were especially interesting when combined with similarly inspired works. The catalogue was impressive and I appreciated the fact that so many catalogue copies were made accessible to the public. I felt that this was one of the most intelligent, most well presented collections the museum had ever had. I was a happy patron.
Then I went next door to the ‘Children of the Plumed Serpent’, my primary reason for coming to LACMA that day, especially to view the codices on display. Unfortunately, this exhibit was not all it could have been and it left me very disappointed. The last time LACMA had a codex on display it had been shown open on a very long rectangular table. This time the codex was only opened to one page. Why wouldn’t you show the whole thing? There was, however, a filmed version of the codex in a separate case which I only discovered accidentally since it was not well marked and the screen was dark when not activated. When it was activated it raced through the codex at lightening speed, making it impossible to really focus on any of the detailed hieroglyphic drawings. Different ceramic works and jewelry can readily be seen both here in L.A. and in Mexico. An actual example of one of the handful of codices is an entirely different matter. It should have been the jewel of the exhibit, displayed in its entirety and certainly a line-by-line translation should have been provided. John Pohl, the co-curator of the exhibit, published a wonderful children’s book called ‘The Legend of Lord Eight Deer’. There he explained the epic in great detail. He could easily have done so for LACMA’s exhibit. The same is true for the original map of Tolula and the genealogy of the royal families. Here the signage was again completely inadequate, often at a level one could only read when kneeling on the floor. There was a map posted at the entrance but that map was sorely inadequate. Since just about every museum in Mexico has wonderful, detailed maps of the different native population centers, INAH would have gladly shared such maps.
Congratulations for being able to import such outstanding artifacts, shame on you for not giving them the importance, the prominence, and the detailed explanations they deserve.
What disturbed me the most about my latest experience with LACMA was less the fact of a poorly curated exhibit that should have been exceptional but much more the fact that the institution keeps isolating itself from public comment and its employees are not held accountable. That is not a good way to run an important institution as the scandals at the Getty Museum must have proved to all of us.
Being the eternal optimist I am giving it one more try. I’ll go back for another visit before the end of May. I am sincerely hoping to see some improvements.