London’s National Gallery is the focus of the latest film from legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman. And for three hours, the viewer gets to experience a surplus amount of information and insight on this venerable institution. And there is a lot to absorb: from extended gallery lectures relating to the most celebrated artworks in its collection to behind-the-scenes meetings where museum officers politely debate the various challenges they face in running this institution to near-silent observations of art restorers painstakingly bringing centuries-old masterworks back to their original hues to an extraordinary session where the visually impaired are given special materials to feel what some of the classic paintings look like.
For the first hour, the film is utterly fascinating. But then, Wiseman’s leisurely pacing begins to become tiresome, and a sense of been-there/done-that sets in as the viewer experiences yet another gallery talk and watches yet another boardroom meeting. Those with extraordinary patience or a hunger for museum management may find it fascinating, but I fear that many viewers will simply follow the example of one young lady in the film who ignores the art around her and begins to tap away feverishly at her iPhone.