Findings

“Can I Park My Car inside the Museum?”: Overheard at the Guggenheim circa 1959

Remarks and Questions Reported by Sales Desk and Switchboard Operators, circa 1959

Remarks and Questions Reported by Sales Desk and Switchboard Operators, circa 1959. James Johnson Sweeney records. A0001. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives, New York

Guggenheim International Award, 1960

Guggenheim International Award, 1960. Exhibition records. A0003. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives, New York

Do you remember how you felt the first time you walked into the Guggenheim, looked up at the oculus, and contemplated ascending the six spiraling ramps? Perhaps like some other visitors, you might have been thinking, “Does the museum sell Dramamine?”

That question and other humorous queries and observations are revealed in a memo of visitor’s remarks and sightings reported by the sales desk and switchboard operators circa 1959 (enlarge the image above to see for yourself). According to the memo, the most frequently photographed artwork at the museum was Aristide Maillol’s Pomona with Lowered Arms, usually with a middle aged man posing next to it. Sales desk attendants also reported that “Kandinsky” was one of the most frequently mispronounced artist names, often pronounced “Comiskey.” In all earnestness, the memo writer suggests that the mispronunciation might be associated with “Comiskey Field,” home of the Chicago White Sox and the site of three of the six 1959 World Series games, White Sox vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The memo doesn’t just focus on the visitors though. When a visitor asks a museum sales clerk if the museum has any brushes, the sales clerk responds, “No, but I’ll find out if he is being shown at another gallery.”

Have you heard—or made—any strange requests or questions at the Guggenheim or another museum?

  • Carmen Hermo

    The “most frequently photographed scene,” of men standing next to the nude Pomona, could be recreated now: she’s currently on view! http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/2596

  • Carmen Hermo

    The “most frequently photographed scene,” of men standing next to the nude Pomona, could be recreated now: she’s currently on view! http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/2596

  • MichaelJWilson

    Further to the “Well-known names who have been noted in the galleries” section, artists Chris Coombes and Christian Rutherford did something similar in the late 1990s when working at Tate Britain as sellers of the museum’s in-house magazine. Taking note of any famous faces who passed through the institution’s doors, they compiled the data—often annotating it with snarky observations—into the Tate Celebrity List. This well-maintained though still fairly informal undertaking was later, in 2001, published by artist and White Columns director Matthew Higgs as the 50th installment of his publishing project Imprint 93.