In 1989, an anonymous group of art activists calling themselves the Guerrilla Girls dropped a little factoid that rocked the art world: the Metropolitan Museum’s Modern Art section included less than 5% of women artists, while 85% of the nudity on display featured women. Think it’s gotten any better come 2017? Uh, no. That staggering number now stands at only 6% of featured women artists to the tune of around 70% nudes. If you’re a fairly regular visitor to the Met like I am, you’ll be hard-pressed to find decent representation.
Enter: Museum Hack. Their team is working to offer an affordable set of tours that attempt to dismantle the inaccessible, overly academic language that so often surrounds museums. They’re also out to challenge the patriarchal stereotypes that exist throughout the art world in a fun and interactive setting. It’s a tall order, but somebody has to do it.
So when I was recently invited to attend a tour of my choosing, I was surprised to find so many options at my disposal. Museum Hack covers five major cities in the U.S. (Chicago, D.C., L.A., NYC, and San Francisco), and of the tours available in my area, I went for the one appropriately titled “Badass Bitches.” Because of course. Also, the intro sounded amazing:
“Remember when feminism happened, and Georgia O’Keeffe kicked butt, and now museums and the art world totally treat male and female artists with equal value? JK JK IT’S STILL SUPER BAD!”
As you might have guessed, this officially marks FemHype’s first foray into pop culture. We’ve covered events and conventions alike, but now we’re excited to open up the floor to talk about more than just games! (Shoutout to the women enthusiastically swapping Overwatch stories before the tour began on Saturday, though. It made me giddy.) If you’ve been waiting to submit something unrelated to games, congrats! Your time has come. Swing on over to our submissions page and we’ll get you started. ❤
While I was invited by a member of the Museum Hack staff to write this review, I was strongly encouraged to be honest about my experience. If I had a bad time, I definitely wouldn’t be recommending it to any of you now, but I think it’s still worth noting that I was asked to tag along in the first place. All good? Onward!
To be honest, I was initially a little leery about attending this tour. We all know by now that anything commercially marketed as “feminist” is usually just repackaged White Feminism™ with a shorter name, and I really, really didn’t want this whole thing to turn into Jillian Goes To The Met Just So She Can Argue With Her Tour Guide. (Not as fun as it sounds.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover that wouldn’t be the case at all. In fact, racism was routinely discussed throughout the tour, such as relegating the work of Natives to a room separate from the American exhibit and the blatant dismissal women of color continue to face when their work is actually shown. Did I mention our guide even took time to celebrate gender fluidity? Yeah. It was delightfully intersectional.
Speaking of our guide: Lindsay Head was a clever and enthusiastic force to be reckoned with who seemed to burst at the seams with boundless energy. She didn’t pull any punches when it came to covering tough topics, and it was truly a joy getting to spend an afternoon picking her brain about art, feminism, pop culture, and all the ways they intersect. From the Kardashians to Cruel Intentions, Lindsay knew how to make old art seem mainstream, and this was seriously refreshing. We were even encouraged to take Snapchats of women we might have missed along the way, and at the end, we got to share our own personally curated selections to the rest of the group. As you can see above, my version might have gotten a little out of hand. Just a little.
I won’t spoil the specific tour tidbits since you’ll have to go yourself, but some of the highlights include: Florine Stettheimer’s “The Cathedrals of Broadway” (pictured up top!), Kiki Smith’s “Lilith,” Harriet Whitney Frishmuth’s “The Vine,” and Rosa Bonheur’s “The Horse Fair.” That last one became an immediate fave the moment I heard Rosa was an out and proud queer woman. We also made a pit stop over at Auguste Rodin’s “Adam” where Lindsay treated us to a story about how his assistant should really be getting credit for her contribution to his pieces. (Julia, another Museum Hack employee, put it best in a recent tweet.) We even got surprise party favors!
By the time we hit the American exhibit, I got the chance to select a sculpture to pose next to. Obviously, I went with the timeless Angel of Death (pictured right) because it’s a total classic and I’m always down for women disrupting the status quo.
It might sound like I go on a lot of tours, but to be honest? I don’t. Wandering around for more than an hour while someone talks used to be something I avoided — until Museum Hack converted me. So how did I make it through and have a great time? I took a few precautions and paced myself, which I’ll elaborate on below.
How to hack Museum Hack’s tour:
- Pack two water bottles. I realize I generally need to stay hydrated more than your average person, but it was a relief to have that spare drink by the time the second hour rolled around. It’s better to pack more than less!
- While snacks aren’t allowed in most museums (especially at the Met, where the guards have eyes everywhere), I ate a substantial meal about two hours before the tour began. Thank you, eggs and toast!
- For the love of God, wear comfortable shoes. I made the mistake of choosing flats when I should have packed a pair of sneakers. You can always switch out your cute shoes once the tour begins to avoid paying the price later (RIP caves).
- If you need further accommodations (elevator access, a break to sit, etc.), ask! Seriously, you’re not being a pain. Tour guides are trained to assist the needs of their group, and you can always pull them aside before the tour even begins if you’re not up for voicing your concerns in front of everyone.
- Piggybacking off of #4: locate the bathroom beforehand. Even just having a quiet space to freshen up can help lift your mood significantly.
- Switch your phone over to Airplane Mode before the tour begins. Not only does this save battery life (mine is an older model that drains quickly), but it also hides any incoming messages or notifications that might distract you from the tour.
- Not a fan of icebreaker games? Go with a friend. There was a group of four women who attended the tour I was on, and I could tell they were having a blast. Moral support is a wonderful thing!
All that said, if you’re a big history nerd (like me) and this sounds like something you might want to get involved in, Museum Hack just listed a bunch of available jobs this month. You should also follow Museum Jobs on Twitter, which I didn’t know existed until I started researching for this piece. Fun!