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The Museum Workout???

by Sylvie Schwartz

#outfitgoals via Monica Bill Barnes & Company

If you haven’t heard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held 45-minute workout sessions before the museum’s opening hours from mid-January to mid-March. The “entirely original and moving new work,” as the Met’s website describes it, has been in the works for something like two years. It’s the result of a collaboration between Monica Bill Barnes of Monica Bill Barnes & Co, the contemporary dance company, and the writer/illustrator Maira Kalman who is, admittedly, my hero. Tickets were sold out months in advance, but to their credit, were only $35 and included admission to the museum for the rest of the day. That’s pretty good considering that regular admission for an adult at the Met is $25 anyway, and you get to spend your morning working out with one of New York’s foremost contemporary dancers.

So what does this workout look like? Monica Bill Barnes and her dancing partner, Anna Bass, wearing sequined dresses and tennis shoes, lead a small group of participants through the museum, their route coming to two miles in total, doing jazzercise-type exercises in front of artworks specially selected by Kalman while her narration, along with disco music, Motown, and other hits play. Though Kalman isn’t physically present, the tour apparently retains that whimsy Kalman feel, as she offers her opinions on art and aphorisms on morality. Though the workout is promised to make you sweat, Barnes has made explicit, “We’re not creating a new way of working out; we’re creating a new way of experiencing art.”

That, I think, is where many would give pause in regards to the efficacy of this experiment. I’m of the opinion that engaging with artwork through movement is valid and should be given greater consideration in discussions on subjects such as this. The main thing that I think many dedicated museum-goers would call attention to is that, if you’re spanning two miles of the interior of the museum in 45 minutes, you’re not going to be spending very much time in front of the individual artworks. I would argue that this isn’t a huge problem. In my opinion, the amount of time that one should spend looking at an artwork varies on a day-to-day basis depending on the headspace of the viewer. Looking at one work for a half hour or longer can be rewarding or excruciating, depending on the mood you’re in. If you have the opportunity, which, granted, is an issue in itself, I think the key to getting to know a work is being able to see it more than once, not how long you spend with it in one go. I think that many would agree with that view, but there still is a predominant narrative in regards to proper museum etiquette that to really engage with a work you must look at it for a long time. This workout subverts that narrative, cultivating what an article in Forbes calls a “somatic intimacy.”

The Monica Bill Barnes & Co website describes this work as a “reimagining of the museum tour.” Indeed, many reviews, such as one in the New York Times, note that the workout “removes any pretense of affected erudition” generally associated with museum-going. However, the main draw of the workout seems to be that it takes place before the museum’s opening hours, creating an exciting feeling that you’re trespassing into a sacred, high society space and a feeling of illicitness that you’re doing something that you’re not supposed to do. Taking all of this into consideration, the work’s success seems to derive primarily from the novelty of being able to work out in a museum. Though most official statements about the workout stress its reinterpretation of the viewer’s relationship to artwork, the ready willingness of the participants and the comments that come out of the experience seem to suggest that it’s not our relationship to art that needs to be reimagined, but rather our relationship to museums.

by Sylvie Schwartz

#outfitgoals via Monica Bill Barnes & Company

If you haven’t heard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held 45-minute workout sessions before the museum’s opening hours from mid-January to mid-March. The “entirely original and moving new work,” as the Met’s website describes it, has been in the works for something like two years. It’s the result of a collaboration between Monica Bill Barnes of Monica Bill Barnes & Co, the contemporary dance company, and the writer/illustrator Maira Kalman who is, admittedly, my hero. Tickets were sold out months in advance, but to their credit, were only $35 and included admission to the museum for the rest of the day. That’s pretty good considering that regular admission for an adult at the Met is $25 anyway, and you get to spend your morning working out with one of New York’s foremost contemporary dancers.

So what does this workout look like? Monica Bill Barnes and her dancing partner, Anna Bass, wearing sequined dresses and tennis shoes, lead a small group of participants through the museum, their route coming to two miles in total, doing jazzercise-type exercises in front of artworks specially selected by Kalman while her narration, along with disco music, Motown, and other hits play. Though Kalman isn’t physically present, the tour apparently retains that whimsy Kalman feel, as she offers her opinions on art and aphorisms on morality. Though the workout is promised to make you sweat, Barnes has made explicit, “We’re not creating a new way of working out; we’re creating a new way of experiencing art.”

That, I think, is where many would give pause in regards to the efficacy of this experiment. I’m of the opinion that engaging with artwork through movement is valid and should be given greater consideration in discussions on subjects such as this. The main thing that I think many dedicated museum-goers would call attention to is that, if you’re spanning two miles of the interior of the museum in 45 minutes, you’re not going to be spending very much time in front of the individual artworks. I would argue that this isn’t a huge problem. In my opinion, the amount of time that one should spend looking at an artwork varies on a day-to-day basis depending on the headspace of the viewer. Looking at one work for a half hour or longer can be rewarding or excruciating, depending on the mood you’re in. If you have the opportunity, which, granted, is an issue in itself, I think the key to getting to know a work is being able to see it more than once, not how long you spend with it in one go. I think that many would agree with that view, but there still is a predominant narrative in regards to proper museum etiquette that to really engage with a work you must look at it for a long time. This workout subverts that narrative, cultivating what an article in Forbes calls a “somatic intimacy.”

The Monica Bill Barnes & Co website describes this work as a “reimagining of the museum tour.” Indeed, many reviews, such as one in the New York Times, note that the workout “removes any pretense of affected erudition” generally associated with museum-going. However, the main draw of the workout seems to be that it takes place before the museum’s opening hours, creating an exciting feeling that you’re trespassing into a sacred, high society space and a feeling of illicitness that you’re doing something that you’re not supposed to do. Taking all of this into consideration, the work’s success seems to derive primarily from the novelty of being able to work out in a museum. Though most official statements about the workout stress its reinterpretation of the viewer’s relationship to artwork, the ready willingness of the participants and the comments that come out of the experience seem to suggest that it’s not our relationship to art that needs to be reimagined, but rather our relationship to museums.

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