Back in the 1970’s, my mother got me a spiral bound, probably mimeographed workbook of Metropolitan Museum Treasure Hunts. I still vividly remember the bright turquoise cover with its hand drawn Met hippo, the black type, and black spiral spine. I also remember begging my mother to take me to the Met so I could do more treasure hunts, looking for animal motifs in ancient pottery, or designing my own Arms and Armour.
Now that I no longer have to beg anyone to take me to a museum, you’d think I’d go all the time. You’d be wrong. I visit a museum maybe three or four times a year. Which may seem like a lot to you if you don’t live in New York, but when you walk by world-class museums quite literally EVERY day, and only go three times a year? Not much to brag about.
Why don’t I go? Because while I do know a little something about art…it’s not enough. I often find myself looking at work and thinking, I should know something about this thing…but I really don’t. And wandering around aimlessly gets tired after a while.
So I was very happy to get an invitation to attend a Museum Hack tour. What’s Museum Hack? They call themselves “Museum tours for people who don’t like museums.” They host their “adventure museum tours” in NY, DC and San Francisco. With names like “The Mating Game,” (at the Natural History Museum) “Big Gay Met,” and “Badass Bitches at the Met” these are NOT your grandmother’s museum tours.
Our guide, a whip-smart, super hip 20-something named Lily, warned us from the start that she was going to be dropping the F-bomb….for feminist, throughout the tour. She told us that we were looking for art that celebrated the vagina but that it wasn’t so easy to find at the Met. Neither was art by women. But if we were game, she would show us what she had sussed out. (They do also have family tours, presumably without f-bombs of any kind, too much talk of vaginas, or bitches.)
We started the tour in a huddle – six women (our guide told us that men do come on the tour — and they always think they’re the first man ever to do so!) quietly shouting “dismantle the patriarchy!” And then we were off.
Our tour guide took us from the oldest piece of intentional art in the entire museum (so, art that was made just to be art – not to serve another function), to contemporary sculpture by Kiki Smith, designed to discomfort. And along the way, she shared inside stories on the artists, their struggles, their stories and more.
She also made it interactive — we had to come up with a caption for one work in the gallery, we had to pick and photograph one work that depicted a woman who we’d want to hang with. We had to pose as our favorite female statue in the American Wing courtyard.
My only criticism of the tour is that while it’s heavy on the inside info and stories about the artists, it’s relatively light on the discussions about the art itself — the composition, techniques used, etc. But I nitpick, overall it was fun, it was engaging, it was informative, it was NOT staid or boring or over anyone’s head. (Though one woman on a the tour, who had just arrived, jet lagged, from Scotland, didn’t understand how the word bitch was a positive! I think it freaked her out when she was asked to name her favorite bad ass bitch. )
So should you plan your next girls night out/bachelorette party/corporate outing/first date with Museum Hack? I say yes. You’ll get the conversation going, have fun, and dare I say it — maybe even learn something. I took along my college roommate, and it was a super-fun way to do something interesting and see her all at once. We stayed so long, we practically closed the place down.
Not a bad way to spend an evening.