I gather in a circle of people with my hand placed in the middle on top of strangers’ hands. In unison we let out a group cheer “Mu—-Seum!” we yell in our soft ‘museum voices’ as we lift our hands in the air in unison.
It’s a Friday night when I meet this group of strangers who are coming together as a tour group in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Michelle, our guide, was easy to spot; her canvas tote bag reads “Museums are F*%#cking Awesome”. It puts a smile on my face as I think about how museums normally make me feel slightly uncomfortable, like I don’t belong, but maybe tonight that won’t be the case.
“The Met is like fine dining. It has the best of everything – but your stomach isn’t big enough to try everything on the menu,” Michelle explains. “The Chef,” she points to herself, “has put together a curated tasting menu of the best they have to offer that shows off various aspects of the restaurant’s personality. And that’s what we are doing tonight, the Met’s tasting menu.”
Michelle is playing the role of our ‘chef’ this Friday night at the Met by leading our small group on a Viator Renegade Tour of the Metropolitan Museum NYC to experience the museum in a completely different way.
A New Way to See the Metropolitan Museum NYC
Immediately when I saw the name ‘Renegade Museum Tour, I was hooked. I love art, but I’m not an art nut, there are only so many Madonna and Child pieces and artifacts that I can take in a museum visit. Normally when I go to a museum I start off with a bang, interested in each piece, reading the placards, examining everything, but in an hour my interest wanes and it all starts looking the same. I experience art overload and am done.
Michelle doesn’t have an art degree and this is not a hoity-toity art tour, instead it’s about stories of art that Michelle finds interesting, unusual, or funny. “I walk fast like a New Yorker, but we aren’t going to see the whole Met,” Michelle says, “instead I’m going to show you the 14 best things ever.” The Met is enormous; it can take you an entire day to explore it. The museum is more than 2,000,000 square feet and it owns 2.5 million objects- you can’t possibly take it all in, however this curated tour cuts through all the noise.
She warns us that the tour is not G rated, we should expect to hear some curse words, and we’ll be talking about drinking, and sex. Sounds like a typical Friday night in New York I muse to myself. Some of the people in my group have attended a Renegade Tour before, and they are back for more – which is always a good sign. Each Renegade tour guide chooses different works, ensuring you never get the same tour twice if you have a different guide.
Works of Storytelling Art
Storytelling brings things to life. We all love stories; they can cross the barriers of time and allow us to experience similarities. However when we browse through a museum we seldom ever hear the stories behind the images, until now. The evening is filled with fascinating stories about the artists, the works, the eras and Michelle brilliantly puts it all in modern day terms that we can relate to. Suddenly art that seems old, confusing and pretentious can be understood and we relate to what the artists were going through and thinking.
“The Russian Tsars gives his wife a intricate jeweled Fabergé
egg as an anniversary gift and she loves it so much she asks for another. The Tsar continues to commission the artist, Peter Carl Fabergé,
to make a new one every year. Overall, 50 eggs were made. Forty-three of them are in museums today, and the remaining seven have gone missing. At values of 7 to 33 million dollars, it has sparked the greatest ‘Easter egg’ hunt in the world,” Michelle smiles as we stare at the intricate egg I normally wouldn’t have ever noticed.
Next we race off to another room, one that I would never ever normally stop in – a room filled with glass cases of gold trinkets. I start to roll my eyes thinking that I will have no interest in this, and Michelle proceeds to tell us we are looking at a case curated entirely about ways to get you wasted in 17th century Germany. I laugh at the thought. But I also do see a number of golden goblets that look like they could have held plenty of wine.
And so it goes, we continue to stop at the most unusual places in the Met, such as the Hall of Instruments, an obscure area of the Met that I’ve never been to before. There we actually sit on the floor of the gallery and get a music lesson renegade style; it felt a bit naughty – and fun.
Between blazing through galleries, laughing, and learning obscure facts we stop for a drink. Michelle has ordered each of us a glass of wine and informs us that we only have 10 minutes to drink our wine. Nothing is slow on this tour.
We continued our renegade journey through contemporary galleries, traditional Monet paintings, sculptures and the armory room. We learn of artist’s lives, lovers, and syphilis’s impact on fashion design. “If you are ever in a museum and your bored, just find the 15th Century Dutch section because it’s always entertaining. They had a thing for sexy, kinky art,” Michelle says as we all stare at the sculpture of a woman spanking a man. “They also love animals doing people things,” she continues letting out a slight laugh, “bears pouring drinks, lizards riding horses…real entertaining stuff!”
We even learn to tell our own stories about art, as Michelle walks us through an exercise in the Monet gallery that stretches our creativity and storytelling muscles.
The clock strikes 9 and we race out of the museum as it closes for the night. In the lobby we end the tour as we started it – in a circle with our hands all in the middle and a group cheer “Mu—-Seum!” I had been in the Met for 3 hours never reaching my ‘art overload point’; in fact, I can hardly believe it’s over already. I guess museums can be f*%#cking awesome after all.
Museum Tours for People Who Don’t Like Museums
I was a guest of Viator on this tour, however all opinions are my own.