The ugly American does exist, and I saw him in Florence, Italy, in 2003. He was the poster child, the mold from which all others were cast. I was in the lobby of the Galleria dell'Accademia, where Michelangelo's David is housed. An American man with his daughter in tow was in line for admission tickets. When I say in tow, I mean it literally. This young girl was being dragged by her father around the museum lobby much like a skier going through compulsory slalom training.
When his turn came at the window, he was extremely upset that the admission would have to be paid in local currency. Loudly, and for all to hear, the man, in the most critical and incredulous tone imaginable, barked, "You don't take American?" Not the more appropriate US dollar or even perhaps the American dollar, just American, as if the dollar had such importance, it did not even need to be spoken.
After getting his ticket, disgusted with the inconvenience of it all, he asked in an impatient tone, "So where's David?" After being directed, he stormed off, dragging his daughter, as if seeing David was a dirty job to be done, obligated for many reasons, including perhaps the parental responsibility for giving his daughter some culture - the whole event sweetened, perhaps, by a good Italian meal later on.
The whole situation was quite embarrassing and certainly did nothing to dispel the stereotype of the American as loud, rude, boorish, overly nationalistic, and ignorant and disrespectful of other cultures.
Seeing the great art museums when in Europe really is a must. However, there are many tourists who do not particularly like art but, for any number of reasons, find themselves slogging through art museums and galleries in an obligatory manner - perhaps as part of a tour, taken by a friend or family member, or as part of a written or hidden agenda.
On March 26, 2010, Antony Gormley unveiled Event Horizon, 31 cast iron and fiberglass casts of the artist’s body perched on rooptops, ledges of buildings, and the grounds around Madison Square Park/Flatiron District (one is atop the Flatiron Building itself and one is on the 26th floor of the Empire State Building). For those unaware of the exhibit, naked men looming above the park, peering down from buildings everywhere, can be startling.
Gormley is an English sculptor and was a Turner Prize winner in 1994. Event Horizon is his NYC art debut. The same sculptures were exhibited in 2007 in London - read more about him and the show here.
Our American friend in Florence would find this sculpture much more to his liking, I am sure - no currency of any kind is needed, no lines, and the sculpture is everywhere around to be discovered. Perfect for a man who, in one of the world's great art galleries, finds the prospect of navigating to one of Michelangelo's masterpieces to be a chore and can only think to ask, "So Where's David?"