One of my all-time favorites, Musée Picasso in Paris left a lasting impression on me when I first visited 25 years ago. Before then, I’d seen some of Picasso’s most famous work but I’d never truly felt a personal connection to it. Following his artistic journey from his early “blue” years to the masterpieces that made him so well-known later in life turned me into a big fan. It was at Musée Picasso that my love and admiration for the artist and his unique perception of the world began.
Being back in Paris after two decades, this time with my six-year-old daughter, I wanted our visit to this beloved museum to be a special occasion to introduce my little one to Picasso and his art. I prepared her days in advance with stories, anecdotes, and pictures of his paintings and sculptures so that she could start relating to it all.
Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, things didn’t quite go as planned.
Having made reservations for an afternoon visit to the Picasso-Calder exhibit at the museum, we stopped for lunch on our way there at a kid-friendly restaurant. As we were leaving, my daughter picked a free balloon, included with our meal. It was a simple air balloon tied to a short stick for carrying around. I didn’t expect the balloon to survive the 15-minute walk to the museum, but then, it did.
Upon arriving at Musée Picasso, we went through the museum’s security check, got our tickets, and continued straight into the exhibit without anyone saying anything to us about the pink balloon my daughter was holding in one hand.
This seemed a little bit odd to me. I was prepared to hand it off if someone asked us to, but no one did, so we proceeded inside. I told my child she needed to keep the balloon very close to her throughout the visit, and so she did.
We made our way calmly through the exhibit rooms on the first level. I could tell my little one was enjoying the art. She was engaged and happy, and this made me feel happy as well.
At this point, a young guy from the museum’s security staff saw the balloon and asked us, in a polite way, to make sure she didn’t get too close to the art. I thanked him and reminded my daughter to keep her distance.
We then went up the stairs to the second floor and entered the first gallery. We were in the center of the room when a female employee approached us, visibly upset, scolding us in French while pointing to the balloon. I pulled my daughter closer to me and responded in English, trying to explain that we didn’t mean to cause any trouble and that the museum staff at the entrance had let us into the exhibit with the balloon. She insisted, loudly, that we had to leave the room immediately. My daughter started pouting. People in the room were turning to look at us. It became a very uncomfortable situation, embarrassing even. I offered to hand the balloon to her but she wouldn’t take it. She insisted we had to leave the room and take the balloon to the coatroom in the basement.
As we were leaving the room, she followed us into the hallway, still upset and still talking to us loudly. I felt harassed. I tried to explain to her, again, that I would have checked the balloon in the coatroom from the very beginning if someone had asked us to do so before we started our visit.
At this point, my daughter looked like she was about to start crying. I was fighting back the tears myself. I wanted this lady to walk away and stop yelling at us. Instead, she went on badgering us like we were delinquents who couldn’t be trusted to leave on our own.
We were just a mother and daughter enjoying our visit to the museum and did not deserve this type of aggression.
Since she wouldn’t leave us alone, I asked to speak to her manager. This aggravated her more. She called the manager on her radio but kept pestering us while we waited for his arrival.
I’d like to say that I felt treated justly once the manager arrived, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. The two of them started discussing the situation in French, leaving me without a chance to properly explain myself. I wanted an apology for being treated in such a rude way but got none. Instead, my daughter and I were punished for someone else’s mistakes and forced to interrupt our visit so we could dispose of a stupid balloon that shouldn’t have been allowed into the museum in the first place.
It is such a shame that this happened to us because it truly took away the joy of this “special visit” for the two of us. Although we tried to continue with the visit, we just didn’t feel right after that.
I did learn a valuable lesson from this experience: not to bring any toys with us on future museum visits. I should have known better, I’ll admit to that.
Still, I don’t think we needed to be treated that way. We all deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, whether adult or child, and that’s not the treatment we received that day at Musée Picasso.
I took the time to write a formal letter of complaint to the museum but I never got a reply from them. It pains me to say this, but I don’t think I’ll be going back.
The art, however, still holds a special place in my heart.