Ian Herriott takes his time looking at artwork at the Portland Museum of Art on Sept. 4. Herriott, who lives in Boston, came to Portland for the first time for Labor Day weekend. He is a member of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but that museum has remained closed because of the coronavirus. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Q: What is the least-busy time to visit the Portland Museum of art?

A: Relatively speaking, it’s never busy at the museum these days because of pandemic-related restrictions on attendance. The total number of people allowed in the museum at once is 100, and the maximum attendance in the large first-floor gallery that houses traveling exhibitions is 35. That means, when the Winslow Homer-Frederic Remington exhibition “Mythmakers” opens Sept. 25, visitors will be able to see the paintings without feeling the pressure of having to move along.

And there will be nobody breathing down your neck.

Other galleries in the museum – both on the second and third floors of the Payson Wing (the fourth floor is closed) and Sweat Galleries in the older part of the museum – are more restricted in terms of attendance. At nearly any random time, a visitor could spend secluded time with European landscapes by Renoir and Monet, where only three people at once are allowed in the gallery that houses them.

In the Palladian Gallery, where the museum’s bicentennial show – “Stories of Maine: An Incomplete History” – is on view, seven people can be in there at once. It’s an opportunity to take all the time you need to look closely at Frederic Church’s “Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp,” a stunning 1895 oil on canvas, or Daniel’s Minter’s “The Mouth of the New Meadows River,” a new box painting about Malaga Island in Phippsburg that explores racism, injustice and the forced dislocation of people of color.

And let there be no doubt, security guards are keeping count. They’re always moving, and always watching to ensure people are respecting six-feet social distancing guidelines and not overcrowding galleries or blocking the hallways. Like most other museums, the Portland Museum of Art is using a timed-ticketed entry system, and masks are required.

But to address the question directly, the least-busy time at the museum these days is the last hour or two of any day the museum is open, except Friday, when admission is free and the museum tends to be busiest, said Graeme Kennedy, the museum’s communications director. “I’d underscore that we’re limited to 100 people in the museum at a time, so compared to the slowest times on a February morning midweek in years past, where we’d see 200 or so folks visit, the feeling at the museum is one of space and safety all the time, given the guidelines from the state and timed ticketing,” he said. “So to be perfectly frank, all times are good to visit right now.”

Museum hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Friday is the busiest day, and it tends to be busy all day. On other days, the first few hours are busiest, Kennedy said.

But it’s all relative. If the museum sold every ticket to “Mythmakers” for every time slot during the 46-day run of the exhibition, it would accommodate a total of about 11,000 people. Before the pandemic changed everything, that might equal attendance for a slow winter month at the museum. The PMA had planned to sell 80,000 to 90,000 tickets  for “Mythmakers” and was hoping for 200,000 visitors for the year.

Kennedy wouldn’t discuss attendance numbers so far this year or revised expectations for annual attendance. “We’re just grateful for our members who continue to support the museum, even if they don’t feel they can attend just yet. Our membership remains strong,” he said.

And again, the silver lining to all of this is the opportunity to spend quality time with great art, and museum curators have put on view gems from the permanent collection and recent acquisitions.

In particular, don’t miss David Driskell’s “Ghetto Wall 2” on the third floor of the Payson Wing. The museum acquired the painting last year and hung it in honor of Driskell, who died this spring at age 88. Driskell, who spent his summers in Maine and had a nearly 70-year association with the state, was an early victim of COVID-19.

He painted “Ghetto Wall 2” in 1970 in response to the social climate of the United States at the time. Driskell invokes the American flag, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to convey the mood of the country in a painting that feels like it could have been painted today in this summer of discontent.


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