Modern Art Galleries

Let us start chronologically (and controversially). The Orsay may not be what you’d think of as a museum of modern art – there’s no contemporary art in its halls, for example – but it goes back to where it all began. Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe is on the top floor of the museum, surrounded by countless other masterpieces that started movements like Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Before you begin your tour of the world’s largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, head to the top floor and take a look at the museum’s grand old clock. A relic from when the Orsay served as a train station from 1900to 1936, the clock retains its turn-of-the-century charm. Its four hands, connected by an electric motor built into each lever above the base, can swing up or down depending on the time available to them. There’s even a dial housed in this little thing specifically for this purpose: #E3 #? – If only I had known back then why something was called “É3”! When we were kids, you knew every word when someone spoke English, did not you? And yes, my French too.

The world’s largest companies invest enormous amounts of time and money in reputation management. And yet, when measured, art museums have demonstrably better reputations than even the most prestigious companies in the world. A recent research project conducted by myself and Patricia Heijndijk of the College of the Netherlands, which ranked the world’s leading museums by reputation, shows that despite their best efforts, organizations around the world can learn a lot from how museums cultivate a positive public image. Using “RepTrak,” a proven tool for measuring the reputations of the world’s best-known organizations, we conducted interviews with more than 12,000 people – both museum visitors and non-museum visitors. We asked about the galleries themselves, the collections, their role in the local community, and their contribution to educating and informing society, among other things – and the results were clear.

The researchers found that 1) almost all large institutions are unable to improve or increase people’s perceptions after years of use; 2] when comparing large corporations (such as Ofcom and PLC), only those that can build strong relationships are considered very reputable; 3) when looking at corporate status itself, brands such as Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, Google, etc. – even if these things are not inherently good attributes for citizens within the organizations around it, there is already enough influence through other means – such very low social influence creates a negative perception!

The fact that the French Louver tops our list may not be much of a surprise, given its profile. It is worth noting, however, that on a scale of 100 points, museums are on average 15 points above the highest-rated companies in the world. Having spent a career measuring corporate reputation, I can tell you that this is a significant difference. Other notable results were the good performance of the British museum Tate Modern in five of the seven assessments – a few small improvements in key areas could catapult the museum up the overall rankings – and the relatively poor performance of the Vatican Museums in Rome, one of the most visited museums in the world. It also appears that the overall image of the country or city in which a museum is located appears to have a major impact on the overall rating. In six of the eight cases where there were fewer than ten ratings in these years (the only exception was a drop from four to one point), these are significantly worse for Italy as an institution compared to other countries of smaller size. As mentioned above, some institutions tend to be larger than 30 square kilometers due to their location within local boundaries, which further limits the comparison between different regions, as such monuments are very often treated very negatively by both visitors AND and locals online, as they seem to stand outside themselves, despite being at the forefront of historic architecture almost everywhere in Europe.

What can companies learn from museums? There are many elements, but perhaps the most important is that museums have an outstanding reputation for pursuing purposeful strategies rooted in a tradition of service to their customers – the public. While the authenticity of a museum’s purpose alone improves public perception and trust, what they offer elevates their users in ways that are difficult for businesses to duplicate.

It may be a challenge to match the way a museum makes its customers feel, but if you can pull it off, the payoff can be significant.