“For the record, I’m doing it for the blog post NOT the art.”
This is how my best friend Jennifer responded when I told her we would be going on a Museum Hack tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jennifer has never been a fan of “the arts”. To Jennifer, “the arts” can include anything from objects you might define as Fine Art like painting and sculpture all the way to a music video that doesn’t feature enough sequins… that was mean (and partially untrue) but she can handle it. Having known her for ten years, I’ve watched her attitude towards art morph from an aggressive hatred into a reluctant acceptance. Much like a conservative parent towards a son-in-law who’s… different.
Okay let me back up. As defined on their website, Museum Hack is a private museum tour company for “people who don’t like museums”. I first heard of them through a targeted facebook ad. Apparently since a majority of my facebook posts concern either Marina Abramovic or Comedy Central press releases, the algorithm (correctly) thought I’d be interested in this museum tour program. I reached out to them since I was going to be on vacation in New York and they hooked Jennifer and I up with a free tour!
Before we even got to the tour, the team was on top of it. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I got three separate logistics reminders all of which emphasize the importance of arriving 30 minutes early so the tour can start promptly at 2:30pm. They even have a nifty textual reminder sent out the morning of your tour so you can make sure you meet your 2:30pm deadline. It’s so great having someone else think of my tourist-ing schedule besides me for once! It’s like a cool mom making sure you don’t miss your Disneyland fastpass at TWO THIRTY PM.
At 2:43pm, Jennifer and I promptly met up with tour guide Jessye. She was beyond gracious and understanding and even accidentally assumed I was a native New Yorker which was THE BEST COMPLIMENT I’LL EVER RECEIVE IN 2015. As we raced through the egyptian wing to catch up with the group, she caught us up on the fun facts that we missed.
After going through group introductions, Jessye and other tour guide Lia presented us with our first challenge; DTP. The “Down to Party” challenge was simple. Throughout the rest of our time in The Met, we had to take a photo of any painting or sculpture who seems “Down to Party”. Lia followed up the instructions with the supportive yet competitive push, “Don’t be stressed. Have fun… but do bring it.” Jennifer is sold.
As we race over to the American Art wing and snicker over the… less than ideal quality of early-American portraiture, Jennifer turns to me and encapsulates the museum excitement I have been trying to extract from her for the past ten years: “It is kind of silly that I’ve never been here- OH! It’s that picture! I know that picture!”
Emanuel Leutze.“Washington Crossing the Delaware”, 1851
Featuring – Museum Hack tour group of March 13 at 3:05pm.
(note: wouldn’t that be funny if painting sources included a featuring ____ like in a rap song? “Pieta FEAT. St. John”)
While it seems like it was simply good timing, this is definitely a moment that Museum Hack has planned to happen precisely 30 minutes into the tour. We stood under the immense painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” for 10 minutes. We learned about small art historical details and even how some of those details were erased in favor of more chaste, textbook-friendly versions. Lia jokingly told us as we stared at George Washington’s crotch, “Your whole life is a lie. I hope you’re enjoying yourself right now.”
It is the first moment of the tour that actively invites guests to interact with an art piece while subtly encouraging critical thought. But we were too busy creating a tableaux vivant (think Arrested Development/Gilmore Girls Last Supper recreation) to realize we were eating knowledge veggies with our “Museum Fun Times” brand mac-n-cheese …are knowledge veggies the new mind grapes?
Then suddenly we’re whisked off to a side gallery full of the hyperrealistic collage paintings by John Haberle and Michael William Harnett. Wait. This is real art that we’ve never seen before. Where are the famous presidents? Or, at least, where’s the paintings with red, blue, and yellow squares that are super boring?
John Haberle, “A Bachelor’s Drawer”, 1890-94
Lia and Jessye start telling us about how revolutionary these paintings of wooden walls with money were and how they related to American history and therefore us. This is quite possibly the most important ten minutes of the tour.
While the rest of the tour is filled with ornate drinking vessels, stately dining rooms, and a highly expensive trecento (fancy word for 1300’s) painting of Madonna and Child with a funny story… THIS moment with Haberle and William Harnett is pure art nerdery. The paintings aren’t instagram-friendly, they don’t inspire a silly game, they’re just well made paintings with a significant history.
Which is the point the tour drills into us. All art in museums, even if it doesn’t interest you upon first sight, have a rich history. Only the history doesn’t have to be a sterilized set of paragraphs on a wall panel. The facts are just as true (and even more interesting) when you hear it from others via engaging storytelling.
LEARNING ABOUT ART DOESNT HAVE TO BE BORING. Your museum explorations can be accentuated with the phrase “mic drop” and the art will still hold its cultural significance. Museum Hack takes advantage of the fact that the art can’t hear you. You’re allowed to poke fun at the literal sideboob in a painting (see below) and it will still remain just as historically and monetarily valuable.
Paolo di Giovanni Fei, “Madonna and Child”, 1370
I highly recommend the Museum Hack tour for anyone who can spend a half day at The Met. The only downside was that it was a bit of a whirlwind and I wished we could’ve had more time to spend with the galleries, but that’s because I already wanted to be there. This is not a tour for those who want to “soak it all in”. You’re more than welcome to do that after the tour finishes but Museum Hack is not for the Rothko meditators.
At risk of sounding like an outright commercial, this tour is fun for the whole family. If they can get Jennifer to walk out saying “I had so much fun!”, your grumpy child/parent/significant other will enjoy it too. Museum Hack understands that total museum engagement doesn’t happen in one visit.
But maybe now you’re more likely to take your next Tinder date there and re-tell one of the stories you heard to show off your classy “Fraiser” side. Then you’ll take your parents when they visit and you’ll book another tour with them. Then maybe you’ll go by yourself because you’ve been to The Met three whole times and it’s not such an intimidating space. So much could happen after just one good museum experience!
Or, at worst, you walk out of there with quite a few instagrammable selfies. You can’t seem to lose with this. As we were wisely told at the beginning of the tour, “Don’t be stressed. Have fun… but do bring it.”