The rooms are hushed. You can hear your breath. An air of expectancy hangs over the space, held there by walls of the world’s great paintings. You're in the rarified atmosphere of an art museum.

No, wait. That’s not right. That’s the way a museum used to be. Now, no longer quiet, political activists have entered the halls of high art with one protest after another.

You saw this trend made extra clear in 2019 when the Brooklyn Museum permitted protesters outside its closed doors to enter in order to use its bathrooms. There was no holding back the outside world anymore.

Poor Matisse. He wanted painting to be a “cerebral sedative,” keeping troubling subject matter out of it. In his book “Notes d’un Peintre, he wrote of making “mental soothers, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.”

Those days are gone forever

In the latest news about protesting, a German museum called in the police because of threatening online complaints from Right-Wing groups.

The museum, Zeche Zollern in Germany, has been menaced by people who objected to the special hours reserved for visitors of color attending an exhibit that examines Germany’s colonial history and those harmed by it.

Two white men posted a video on Facebook last month accusing the museum of bias against the White race.

This prompted the threats, resulting in police now standing guard outside the museum.

Meanwhile, the outrage continued online as people kept on accusing the museum of racism against White visitors. One online user wrote: "A request that separates people based on the color of their skin is definitely racism."

Yet, several online messages disagreed with the protest, including one person who identified as a history teacher saying that Zeche Zollern deserves credit for its effort.

In its own defense, the museum said: “We are experimenting with this safer space and asking our visitors for four hours a week to refrain from visiting... We cannot find this to be racism.

The effort seems sincere, but one may wonder what will happen with a show of female artists in history who were mistreated or ignored. Will the museum give female visitors special hours, too?

Such activism on the part of museums suggests a trend. Last week, the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum in Boston locked its doors during the hours when admission was free to keep climate protesters out.

Staff at the Garner Museum spotted the protestors, who call themselves Extinction Rebellion, posting on social media their intention to make a “peaceful field trip” to this treasure house.

The Garner was taking no chances. Members of this group are known for gluing themselves to artworks that cause damage.

To head off the age of protest getting a foothold in exhibit halls, in 2019, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) – representing 20,000 repositories the world over – sought to redefine what makes a museum.

Say what?

But the long-held definition – collecting, preserving, and exhibiting art – didn’t get a mention. Instead, you have an aim to promote “human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.”

None of which pertains directly to the art of painting. Instead, ICOM goals sounded an awful lot like the agenda for political activism now plaguing museums. Go figure.