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Chitra Ramaswamy: ‘It’s all that body heat and bad attitude. The hum of a stranger’s breath on your neck. The whispering. The not whispering. The people’

IT’S the last weekend of the Pablo Picasso exhibition and I’ve decided to shake off my slippers and head to the Gallery of Modern Art. So, it seems, has the rest of Edinburgh. It appears that for three whole months not a single one of us has been able to devote a paltry couple of hours to the greatest artist of the last century. So here we are, ready to manically consume art while we’ve got the chance, and damn anyone who gets in the way.

Upstairs, surrounded by sharp elbows, I try to devote the requisite amount of time to one of Picasso’s Weeping Woman paintings. A woman (one of the disappointingly real, non-cubist kind) barges in front of me, her globe of hair blotting out the entirety of the painting. I stubbornly study the back of her head. I will not move, ever, just to punish her.

She looks and looks, oblivious to the rage mounting behind her. Eventually I give in and move on. Perhaps I’ll catch this masterpiece in another life.

Behind me, a man booms at another painting in an outrageously posh voice. “Who’s this? She looks like Anne Boleyn.” Instead of, say, reading the description (which reveals that the subject is not, in actual fact, Anne Boleyn), he is generously providing his own analysis and sharing it with both floors of the gallery. People, eh? They do the funniest things.

I don’t really do crowds. I’ve never been to a football game, loathe Hogmanay street parties and would rather eat my own ears than push my way to the front of a festival crowd. It’s all that body heat and bad attitude. The hum of a stranger’s breath on your neck. The stink of someone’s wet coat up your nostrils. The queuing. The whispering. The not whispering. And above all, the people.

Being one of the species myself, I think I’m entitled to say, God, we’re annoying. I cannot imagine David Attenborough kneeling in front of a group of us in his chinos and affectionately saying, “The humble human being – look at the way he talks loudly on his mobile phone in front of one of Picasso’s drawings for Guernica, showing blatant disregard for both his race and the most famous war painting of the 20th century. Look at the way he has no sense of how much space he is taking up. Isn’t he fascinating?”

But if we’re bad enough on our own – singing in the shower, picking our noses, rewatching Lord of the Rings whenever we get the chance – we’re a million times worse en masse. We’re a nightmare.

So I’ve decided to offer up a few tips on how to be less annoying when visiting an art gallery – based on in-depth research of my own feelings. It’s all right, don’t thank me. Just pay attention.

1. Never stand in front of someone while they are looking at a painting.

2. Do not point at a canvas or use self-congratulatory sweeps of the back of your hand to demonstrate your appreciation of it. Just look at it. Then move on.

3. Do not talk about the work. No one will be impressed 
by your use of the words trompe l’œil or post-surrealist. They will just think you’re a pretentious idiot.

4. Do not whisper, laugh or repeatedly tell people around you to shoosh. In fact, it’s best if you all just shut up. And move on.

5. If visiting the gallery shop, don’t loiter in 
front of the postcard stand, reminiscing about the original you just saw in the gallery. There 
is no need to get nostalgic about something that happened only seconds ago. Just pick your postcards. And move on.

6. Finally, enjoy. And then move on … n

 

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