Why Is the Museum of Modern Art So Loud?

A study of New York's finest galleries yield strange results. 

New York City is known for its culture (for better or worse), its art, and its noise. Naturally, those three things converge at art museums, but the way they do is unexpected and unpredictable. A new, not perfectly scientific but definitely plausible, study of decibel levels at area museums shows that looking at art isn’t such a quiet, contemplative activity after all.

The people behind the study took 10-second readings in each museum’s atrium, each museum’s most popular exhibit, and each museum’s furthest corners to figure out what the average visitor’s experience might be like noisewise. What they discovered was that museums really aren’t that quiet at all.

Specifically, they found MoMA to be the loudest with 77.1 decibels in the atrium, roughly equivalent to average working volume of a factory. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Met were in the middle, and the Frick was the quietest at 63.6 decibels in the atrium, which is still pretty much restaurant average.

Other than the surprisingly loud entrances, the study showed that noise dropped off at distinctly different levels. The more obscure exhibits at MoMA were still rocking a pretty heavy 67.2 decibels while the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Koç Family Galleries hit only 52.8 decibels. And that can’t all be chalked up to architecture: Clearly the less popular work in the bigger, more classical museum is just distinctly unpopular. And the Whitney’s galleries proved louder than its lobby, which is kind of a nice thing if you think about it.

The moral here is that if you want to go to heavily touristed places, no matter how classy, you’re going to have to deal with crowds and noise. Bring earplugs if you must. If you’re in New York, no one is gonna judge you for looking a little weird.