This article from the NY Times offers an interesting perspective on the proliferation of after-hours events. Writer Chloe Veltman observes:
... a similitude often prevails: D.J.’s spinning electronic music, talks, art-house movies and the indispensable cash bar. An artistically satisfying after-hours event goes further than simply throwing together quirky attractions, like a modern-day version of a Victorian fun fair for young professionals. To stand out, the programming should make the art on display come to life in ways that are not necessarily possible when visitors are walking through exhibition halls during normal hours.
... Connecting evening events with the museum’s broader programming and aesthetic may not be a goal for all institutions. Some are more interested in creating fluid, abstract experiences that play on visitors’ desires to flit among a variety of attractions rather than deeply engage with a single idea. The trouble is that this approach tends to amplify the programs’ social aspects over the art. The events might bring in more young people, but they often don’t galvanize hearts and minds.
My first reaction was: yeah, deep engagement! I agree. And then I began to think - well, what's wrong with making our museums and galleries into social spaces that people use for all kinds of reason, not just for learning about and connecting with collection or exhibition items? What's wrong with me just dropping in for a cup of coffee and twenty minutes' free wifi, or a glass of wine and a gossip? If I don't "deeply engage" am I somehow a visitor failure?
A nicely apposite extract from the Guardian's Q&A with Nicolas Serota to mark the 10th anniversary of Tate Modern:
The past 10 years have seen an explosion of interest in contemporary art. Has art primarily become a form of entertainment?
No, but I was looking at something the other day that reminded me that, in the mid-19th century, Charles Eastlake, director of the National Gallery, spoke to a parliamentary select committee about how he kept seeing people in the National Gallery having picnics. He found it extraordinary that they had come in for reasons other than looking at art. The same kinds of complaint are made about people at Tate Modern. But they are here. They are finding out about themselves, they are looking at art – maybe out of the corner of their eye – but they learn something and come back. And that is all that really matters.