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In line with their tag line “Museum Tours for People who don’t like Museums," Museum Hack is a fun and absolutely worthwhile ride though the stoggy halls of art history. Museum Hack was started by Nick Grey, a self avowed museum hater. What turned him on to old art? A date night with a woman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who knew what she was talking about.
Grey, according to his TED talk, basically took that experience of seeing the MET through new love-struck eyes and began inviting his friends on museum visits which were both informal and informative. In the last few years Museum Hack has totally blown up, and to get on one of these tours will costs you some bucks. The team of tour guides culled from various professions, actors, educators, marketing majors (anyone but your typical art historian) are lively, charismatic and have done their history homework.
Last Saturday we were invited to the “Bad Ass Bitches of The Met,” which is a feminist perspective of art history. The tour was lead by Kate Downey who not only knew her stuff but really embodied the material. As we were to later find out Kate designed this particular tour, and it has turned out to be among the Hacks’ most popular.
Kate started “Bad Ass Bitches” by opening with the Guerrilla Girls famous statistics on the art world. It was a perfect segue way to begin the tour of women artists hidden in plain view throughout the Met galleries. Yes, thrid wave feminism is alive and well.
I like to think of myself as a crotchety ol’ art snob who has read and seen it all. But I have to say this two hour tour was engaging and entertaining, and most importantly, refreshingly edifying. Yeah, I learned quite a few things. For instance, the 40,000 year old painted handprints in caves such as Lascaux and Chauvet are now thought to be by women. Scholars believe that the physiology of these hand prints are those of women, not men. So therefore the earliest artists were …
(Above) Anna, Hack’s assistant tour guide in training, also added a few illuminating anecdotes. In this one she describes the major orgasam a pre-Columbian Goddess had, which caused the Coca tree to grow.
And of course, we also paid homage to Modern faves, such as Georgia O’keeffe and Kiki Smith.
Most of the stories of women in the arts are harrowing. Renaissance painter, Artimisia Gentileschi, was raped by her painting tutor. And as Kate tells us here, she was tortured to prove her innocences.
There were fourteen women signed on to this particular tour, who gleefully followed along with the various games and challenges put to the group throughout. We ended our tour in front of August Rodin's "The Burghers of Calais”. Its understood that Rodin's assistant/muse/lover, Camille Claudel, had sculpted all the hands and feet of this work. I can't remember a museum visit ever been this infuriating and satisfying at the same time.
While Hack professes these tours are designed for people who don’t like museums, they’ve done quite a job at drawing in the haters. And maybe the haters are really those who have not been given an entry way into high art. Those people who never had the opportunity to find that one object to pull them in yet harbor a secret desire to get it—to understand what all this art nonsense is about. Well, Museum Hack may have just found an informal formula to do just that.