Today I took my best friend's kid to the Detroit Institute of Arts. For years I've read that it's the eighth-largest museum in the US. However, since their renovation and expansion (which took eight months), they have now apparently taken the fifth-largest spot.
I was very curious to see the improvements. It seems that they've done a lot of cleaning, and they have added new title cards to many of the exhibits. They've also added small standing metal frames to many rooms. These frames display a large angled sign which often explicates or points out interesting things about one of the pieces in the room. They're set at the proper viewing distance for the piece, so you stand behind the frame and look at the art and read the sign. Rather good idea, and helpful.
I often think that there are two approaches to art; discovering its meaning by yourself, or reading the meaning discovered by someone else. Both have merit, of course. I remember seeing the Diego Rivera murals as a young college student, and working out my own theory about the art, and now I see at the museum shop they have an exhaustively researched book that explicates all the murals, as well as providing background and insight in the artist and his methods.
I love this sort of book. It takes you through everything, it shows you the amazing nuances of the murals, things I've never noticed before, even sketches of the mural in progress. At the same time, though, would I be as interested in this book and the paintings if I hadn't spent so much time thinking about them and trying to understand them myself?