Never mind a little knowledge of art history and an open mind, visitors to today's blockbuster exhibitions would do better to arm themselves with a pair of binoculars and a stepladder. Whether it's the terracotta army or Monet, the artworks are often forgotten in an ordeal of queues and snail's pace shuffling behind hordes of glazed, audio-guided zombies.
At best, you might end up with sore feet and a crick in your neck. At worst, you might explode from "gallery rage" – a phenomenon that came to a head at the Tate's recent Gauguin exhibition where angry visitors complained of suffocating crowds, queues five-deep in front of canvases, even of being "kettled" by attendants. Is there any other art form that herds its audience so indiscriminately? At the theatre or the opera or at gigs, you can at least choose to squash up in the gods or squeeze into the mosh pit – and you get a discount for your discomfort.
Now comes the blockbuster to end all blockbusters – Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery – which may also restore some civilised calm to proceedings. The decision to limit admissions to 180 people per half hour – rather than the safe maximum of 230 – is to be welcomed. It's unlikely to dampen enthusiasm – the Tate had strict ticketing limits on Carsten Holler's slides and it was still a smash-hit.
In fact, 180 people every 30 minutes still sounds like quite a crowd for a show of 60 paintings. Some more late-night openings and more informative, free hand-outs – to avoid those label-reading pile-ups – would also ease congestion. Still, well done to the National Gallery for realising that when people come to see an art exhibition, they usually want to see the art – and not somebody else's shoulder.