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Museum etiquette a problem for some young visitors

Young museumgoers can often be problematic

Visitors viewing paintings at an art center in Jung-gu, Seoul. (Yonhap)
Visitors viewing paintings at an art center in Jung-gu, Seoul. (Yonhap)

An 11-year-old student Yang Jin-hee (not her real name) visited the Museum of Silhak in Gyeonggi Province with her friends last Saturday. But soon after they arrived at the entrance, all four students were denied access due to safety concerns.

The museum said it was inevitable because its internal regulations state that children aged 13 or below must be accompanied by a guardian. 

More state and city museums are presenting art exhibitions that have a reasonable entrance fee these days. Hence such establishments have seen a growing number of visitors recently. 

According to Seoul City’s data, over 12.6 million people have visited Dongdaemun Design Plaza, one of the city’s most visited art centers, since its opening in March 2014. DDP is especially popular for the free exhibitions at its Design Museum, and various art fairs such as Seoul Design Week. 

While the rise in visitor numbers benefits museums, young visitors are causing a bit of a hoo-ha. 

“When a little boy walks into the exhibition hall, all the staff start to pin eyes on him. We all wish that he would eventually walk out safely without touching an art piece,” said Lee So-jeong, who had worked as a curatorial staff at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art last winter. 

According to Lee, staff at the museum usually keep a close watch on the children and wait till the last minute to stop young visitors from running or touching the art. They then issue a polite warning to their parents. Most of the time, the reply is a halfhearted “Fine.”

“To be honest, it is very difficult to ask parents to look after their kids. Some parents even yell at us and ask why we are scolding their children,” said Lee Min, an official from MMCA’s customer service department.

Since 2014, the MMCA has been trying to promote museum etiquette by asking visitors to enjoy exhibitions in an orderly manner. 

In 2014, the MMCA created a big white wall named the “Campaign Wall” in front of its exhibition hallway. Visitors could write out their promises related to museum etiquette on pieces of paper, and post it on the wall.

Visitors to museums also hope that etiquette can be improved. 

Bae So-hyun, recently visited the Monet Exhibition at The War Memorial Hall in Yongsan. She described her experience there as “total chaos.”

She said, “Mothers were chasing after their kids to take photos in front of the paintings. Isn’t it against the rules to take photos outside the designated photo zone?” 

According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, visitors who disturb others by taking pictures or touching art can be asked to leave for the sake of others. 

Related law also states that museums can limit the access of visitors who do not follow the instructions of their staff.

But according to an industry insider, curatorial staff hired at museums are mostly part-time or volunteer workers. 

“Our museum hires staff through an outsourcing company, so we do not have an exact plan to add more staff inside the exhibition hall,” said an official at the National Museum of Korea.

By Kim Da-sol (