<iframe src="//www.googletagmanager.com/ns.html?id=GTM-PWMWG4" height="0" width="0" style="display:none;visibility:hidden">

Are museums realising that the best things happen after dark?

1 September 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

This week, the Institute of Contemporary Arts made an announcement that has made your correspondent positively tingle with excitement. The bastion of contemporary art that sits proudly in old London – almost hidden on the Mall, overlooking St James’s Park and more commonly passed by tourists on their way to Buckingham Palace than sought out for its own excellent merits – has revealed new opening hours. This might not seem like something to get too enthusiastic about. Except that, in this case, it could suggest a genuine change in the way museums and galleries operate – one that is worth paying attention to.

Gone are the morning starts. Farewell, the yoking to the normal working day. Instead, the ICA have been brave enough to throw off the shackles of the nine to five and to open from the afternoon until 11pm. It might upset Dolly Parton, but it seems the most contemporary thing any museum has done in recent memory: adapting its opening hours to the way people live.

It has been a badly kept secret that the best time to visit galleries has been in the evenings. How Rakewell has pined for Friday evening so that we might pop into the National Gallery and enjoy the collection in the calm and peace of the start of the weekend, while the usual hordes are otherwise engaged.

Of course, other museums have begun to wise up to this, with Friday Lates at the V&A and Tate Modern Lates (location obvious enough). Yet somehow planned events that try to lure people in with music and showstoppers never seem as attractive as the happy collection waiting to be discovered in the twilight hours.

This is not just a London thing. Any art-loving Manhattanite knows that the best time to visit the Met is on Friday evening (helpfully, it is also open until 9pm on Saturday – but Rakewell concedes that the city that never sleeps might contain other pleasures on Saturday night). Even MoMA stretches to 7pm on a Saturday. But this pales into insignificance when compared to ICA’s bold extension of its hours into the night. The only possible downside is that a venue that was once the most reliable place for a quiet drink is now about to become the hottest bar in town.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.