childhood

The Psychology behind My Favorite Museums from my Life Experiences and World Travels

The Psychology behind My Favorite Museums from my Life Experiences and World Travels

Having grown up in New York City and having lived in Washington, DC I have been immensely spoiled when it comes to museums.  Ever since I can remember, I have been going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met for short), the Museum of Natural History (and accompanying planetarium) as well as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC.   There were a fair number of school trips to these museums and I also have gone to them as an adult as well. It has been quite a cultural journey to visit these museums year after year.  The Met will always be my favorite museum because of the ever-changing, interesting exhibits they hold year after year. I also love it because you can sit on the steps our front and just people watch.

Recently I posted on Facebook a list of places I wanted to travel to with my five-year old son and polled my friends.  Interestingly, a few noted that I should not go to certain places because my son would be bored with so many museums.  Perhaps amazingly, my son likes museums. Maybe it’s the museums we take him to or perhaps the love of museums is in his New York DNA.  Either way, he enjoys them. Of course, he does get tired and demands to be carried at certain points (or did when he was younger), but the love is there.  The Facebook reaction did get me thinking about which museums have been the best for me and why.  Below I explore that thought.

  1. Guggenheim Museum, NYC. Don’t worry this list will not be entirely comprised of NYC museums. However, the Guggenheim, plain and simple rocks. Every time I go there I feel like I am in the midst of a Hitchcock movie. I am tempted to run screaming down the spiral staircase as if a million birds or a deranged killer was after me.  If you love film noir or Hitchcock movies, visit the Guggenheim. Oh, yes the Guggenheim does have some great modern art there as well.
  2. The Tate Modern, London.  It’s interactive, its kid-friendly and it’s hip. There was once an interactive exhibit at the Tate featuring talking heads that inspired one of my social psychology research projects.  More specifically, it was a video component of the exhibit called  Annlee You Proposes which was part of a wider project entitled No Ghost Just a Shell.  I used that exhibit as inspiration for a video research project trying to understand how women disclosed certain stigmatizable health conditions.  That museum is just inspirational in my eyes.
  3. Hirshhorn Museum, DC.   I love Cindy Sherman photography.  If you have yet to catch her work, please do so as soon as humanly possible.   Sherman’s work touches upon the role and construction of art, women and media and when she combines all three the art is unbelievable.  I first came across her work at the Hirshhorn museum and ever since I run over there when I can to see what budding insightful artists are on their way up. Currently, the Hirshhorn has an exhibit titled “Art and Destruction sine 1950” and it is captivating. The Hirshhorn Museum’s founding donor, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, was a NY immigrant from Latvia. He was the quintessential American story coming from elsewhere and rising to the top.  For me the museum is about the psychology of modernity  in raw form.
  4. Luis A. Ferre Science Park and Art Museum, Bayamon, Puerto Rico. This is a very odd museum in the middle of a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is a science park which also has an art museum with some interesting contemporary pieces.   Inside this park you have a telephone museum, archeology museum and a health museum which elaborates greatly on dengue fever. There is also a zoo.  It is so random you almost feel like you are in a museum version of Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory.  Apparently, it is the only place, outside of the mainland United States, where you can find an exhibition of NASA rockets and its parts. Because of its quirkiness, I love that place.  It seems to exist for those that just don’t are to make it to San Juan. It will give you a little bit of everything. It is more like an appetizer museum. And that works just fine for kids!
  5. The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and the Georgia Aquarium.  Technically, aquariums are not classified as museums. However, these two aquariums are so phenomenal it would be a crime to leave them off of a museum list.  When I first visited Monterrey Aquarium I was enveloped in a wave of awe at the Jellyfish exhibit. Standing before the exhibit you can’t help but feel taken in and mesmerized by their beauty.   The Georgia Aquarium is so grand in size that you truly understand that we live on an earth that is mostly water.  The enormity of the world hits you in waves as you go from exhibit to exhibit. I took my son there for his first birthday and he was smitten as he intuitively recognized he was a tiny little thing in the world. Interestingly, Businessman Bernard Marcus celebrated his 60th birthday at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and was supposedly inspired to build a grander one in Atlanta.  The irony being that Atlanta is a land-locked city.
  6. El Prado, Madrid.  The Prado has a very special place in my heart and life trajectory.  When I was living in Barcelona as a teenager, I played hooky from school and told my Spanish family that I would be staying at a friend’s house for the night.   What was all the subterfuge about? I went on an overnight bus ride to Madrid. The bus ride was not to go clubbing or go drinking at the cuevas (caves) but was instead to go to the Prado Museum and catch a traveling Velazquez exhibit.   To go up to the grand “Las Meninas” and breathe in such a masterpiece was wondrous and geeky for a teenager. But I loved it. I couldn’t believe I took such a risky trip for art! Thus began my lifelong art passion.
  7. The City Streets of Havana, Cuba and Kamakura, Japan.   Museums need not just be literal buildings that house historical artifacts. Some cities are living embodiments of history, tenacity,  art and architecture.   Havana is stuck in time-the 1950s to be precise. The cars, the buildings and a lot of the side streets seem from another era entirely. Some even reminded me of what the roaring 20s might have been like. In particular, there was the Buena Vista Club that was dark while rum-flowing and spirited-dancing. Kamakura is an odd breathtaking marriage of modern buildings and historical temples.  It is surrounded by a forest giving the city a fairytale feel and picturesque quality.  There is a truly magnificent nunnery (allowing me to be cheesy and exclaim –get thee to a nunnery) and an Amish restaurant.  The quirkiness of the town is just something to you need to feel on your skin.  I enjoyed my best Japanese chicken curry in a hole in the wall run by the sweetest family that was taken in by my son.   Did I mention that the Japanese love children?  Also, there is a sumo museum  in Tokyo that children will love.
  8. World of Coca Cola museum, Atlanta.   I can’t resist. I love caffeine. I have loved coca cola products since as far back as I remember.   Believe it or not, when I was first diagnosed with asthma at the age of seven, the doctor recommended I drink soda . The caffeine would open up my airwaves and the carbonation would help me burb and breathe better. Odd? Well, I love coke zero now as a result. Whenever, I get a chance to, I visit the Coca Cola museum in Atlanta. It is to die for!    They have soda samples from all over the world. If you want to understand a bit of the culture and psychology of another country: try their local version of coca cola.  Some are a bit bitter; while others are way sweeter.  I would recommend the World of Coca Cola if you plan to go into a career of diplomacy. The insights into foreign cultures are delicious.
  9. The Vatican Museums. Maybe because I was at the Vatican for Pope Francis’s first holy week, but the Vatican was unbelievable. The amount of art stored there is massive. Only a small fraction is on display. Oddly, as you tour through the museum (which is extremely packed at almost all times of the day-even at 8am), you feel a bit of a weight on your shoulder.  That weight could be from having to carry my son throughout the museum tour as it was just a bit too massive for him to take in, but it was also from seeing a grand part of history on display.  The Raphael Rooms and magnificent Sistine Chapel swell one’s chest with awe as well as amazement at the human capacity to be creative.  I left feeling a bit guilty that I had not created anything so grand yet.   It should also be noted that the Vatican Museum also has a lovey spiral staircase that again is a bit spooky and majestic.
  10. Mummies: The British Museum, London and the Egyptian Museum.  The British museum has everything a museum should have (and perhaps a few things it shouldn’t). At the British museum the artifacts that are housed there are of grand historical import including the Rosetta Stone and the largest collection of mummies outside of Egypt.  I went to Egypt many years back –even before I went to the UK.  It was amazingly unnerving to see the mummy exhibits in the mummy room. I will never forget the chills I felt at the thought of what that life could have been.  Children love these exhibits! Just tell them it’s a scene from Scooby Doo

I have not made it yet to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands but I hear it is divine. I am also looking forward to experiencing the architecture of the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Where would we be as a society without museums?   I don’t think I want to know the answer to that question.

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