Benches in museums can be difficult to get right. Too few and visitors complain about lack of seating (having worked on the front line in a gallery, I’m all-too-familiar with this gripe), too many and the place looks cluttered. And should seating be competing for space with objects? And where to put them to avoid obstructing sight lines and creating trip hazards? Then there is the question of design: understated or made a feature of?
I first started half-thinking about these questions at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This vast museum boasts collections spanning continents and millennia, and I began to notice as I wandered through the galleries that seating was not only plentiful but had been chosen to complement the objects on display in the room, but without being too showy or intrusive to the overall display.
This Saturday, I spent an afternoon at the Yale University Art Gallery. There, the seating is not so remarkable for complementing the collections, but for some of the little corners where window seats offer views onto the street or across to other parts of the building, thus placing value on the gallery’s situation within the city, as well as providing quiet, tucked-away spots for a pause from the gallery.
Sunday saw me visit the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence. There, many of the benches had been designed by students at the School, thus providing the visitor with a direct encounter with the work of recent students of the School as well as with the collections which are almost as diverse as the Met’s, though on a rather smaller scale!
Here, for example, is Scot Bailey’s (RSID MFA 2012, Furniture Design) maple bench; one of two winning designs for a Museum Seating Design Competition in 2011.
And I didn’t get the details of this one, but I thought it worked well in making a feature of this otherwise unused space between galleries:
So hats off to American museums for doing benches so well!