לחץ לגרסת עברית – Click for Hebrew Version
“The Museum Workout” is performed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The daily morning workout in the galleries is led by Monica Bill Barnes & Company and combines audio by Maira Kalman along with a personalized music soundtrack. During the morning workout, which is open to the public (requires registration and purchasing a ticket for the performance), participants run, stretch, dance and look at art. The simultaneous physical activity changes the experience of viewing art and visiting a museum.
This performance (which is also an experience) is influenced by participatory art and by the changing roles art institutions play as audiences today want to feel involved with and part of these spaces, as active viewers. Maira Kalman and Monica Bill Barnes & Company become agents who place the artworks in a new context while transforming the museum space, and the time spent within it, into a performative event.
Museum Workout / Maira Kalman
I need to walk.
I need to walk through the park.
I need to walk through the park and then go to the museum.
In the museum I need to walk.
At the same time as I was walking
Monica Bill Barnes was asked to create a dance piece for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Something somewhere in the museum. Unknown. Good.
Monica and I spoke about a collaboration.
We talked about what I loved and what she loved.
I love to walk through the museums and look at artwork.
I like to gaze at the people looking at the artwork.
I will walk a few miles in the museum with a pure and empty brain.
Then I will have a cup of coffee and think or not think about what I have seen.
Monica and her company manager Robbie and her dance partner Anna sat at my yellow kitchen table and taped me talking about art.
And we walked through the museum together and talked about it all.
And I chose the art works that I loved. There are so many you could go crazy choosing.
But I did choose.
So Monica had an idea of a workout.
And they had text.
And they created the path.
And they created the workout.
And it is a forty five minute workout where people actually exercise in the museum while looking at art. And it is very tender and very sweet.
Along the path there is music to listen to and there are places to stop and hear my words.
And then there is a breakfast.
Of course you have to celebrate with a breakfast and have a moment to be with the people and to absorb the sweetness and tenderness and funniness of it all.
So this is it. And it is really liked by people a great deal.
Anna and Monica during “The Museum Workout”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Paula Lobo
Running Visitors / Robert Saenz de Viteri
We all wake up in some sort of collective panic between 5:00 and 5:15 a.m. There are three of us. Monica, Anna, and Robbie. We live in different neighborhoods spread out around New York City, but it’s dark everywhere. We eat eggs standing at the kitchen sink or slam a granola bar as we sneak down the stairs. We walk for a while. We take multiple trains. We bike over two bridges. It’s a show day for each of us and the morning is full of the solace of show day rituals. The show just happens to be for 15 people at The Metropolitan Museum of Art before public hours.
We are a dance company. Inherently, the work that we marshal our resources towards always involves movement. We are also a bunch of funny, restless souls. And so we obsess over spending our time in the most meaningful ways. In 2014, the Museum asked Monica (the choreographer and performer who started the company) to make a dance show for one of the galleries. Monica said no, she didn’t want to make a dance show for a room full of art. She just wanted to spend time in the museum. That was the first step towards making The Museum Workout. We premiered it in January of 2017. We thought we would do it a dozen or so times and that would be it. A year later, we’re still doing it.
By 7:15 a.m. we arrive at the loading dock door, down a long driveway off of 84th St. It’s maybe the 70th time we’ve done this and security is just starting to get used to us. Though our presence at that hour will often bewilder someone. You’re here for what? The Museum Workout. What? It’s the exercise tour of the museum. Exercise? Well, it’s a performance, Concerts and Lectures department, extension 3790. We sign a guestbook. Someone comes down to get us.
Anna and Monica during “The Museum Workout”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Paula Lobo
When I used to go to the museum I felt like I stood at the base of a mountain of art. I wanted to see everything that someone should see and when I did see some important work, I wanted to experience it to my (and its) fullest potential. I’d concentrate on a painting, trying to notice some details in the brushstrokes as if that would connect me to it. I’d furrow my brow down, squinting towards some meaningful a-ha moment. It felt like kneeling without knowing how to pray. Within thirty minutes I would be hungry. Fifteen minutes more and my eyes would glaze over. Then I’m narrowing in on Van Gogh’s shoes while thinking about what ingredients I need to make soup tonight.
I’m always open to the possibility that I am alone in my failures. But when you make shows for a living, you have to assume that your experiences are not unique and that there is an audience out there who feels something that you feel. When we started spending long days at the museum to make this piece, we would watch other people in the midst of the same museum fatigue crisis. They’d drag their feet through the galleries as if they were on some invisible conveyor belt in the floor. They’d clutch their hands behind their back in a way that they never otherwise hold them. They’d tilt forward with their heads, listing towards the art for two to seven seconds (we timed people) and then slide along. We wanted to help these people. We wanted to help ourselves. How can we be here and feel enthralled?
At 8:02 a.m. we are standing two steps up on the staircase in The Great Hall. It’s a location worthy of the superlative. Monica and Anna have changed into sparkling sequin dresses and pulled their hair back into the tight buns they’ve been doing for shows since they were 7 years old. They’re coruscating in the light coming through the doors from Fifth Avenue. They are standing side by side, as they have done for 15 years, waiting for the music to start together. They look nothing alike, but somehow you struggle to discern them as soon as they start to move. I’m in a 1970’s tuxedo with a couple of speakers strapped to my shoulder and a laptop in my hands, equal parts stuffy docent and dorky DJ. We each have the same pair of grey running shoes on.
Anna and Monica during “The Museum Workout”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Mallory Lynn
A group of 15 people shuffle in front of us. They’re all wearing various shades of active wear, from the designer brand athleisure stuff to old high school t-shirts with the elastic cut out. They look like superheroes that accidentally showed up in real life. These are the clothes they move in, the clothes they sweat in, and the clothes that they would never wear to the museum.
We go over some rules. Follow us. It’s a guided tour. You’re going to perform with us. You’re going to work out with us. Don’t talk. There’s no obligation to understand anything. We’re just going to move together and look together.
Now they’re even more nervous. At 8:05 a.m. I hit play. The Bee Gees break the tension and shatter the early morning quiet. A few of the 15 participants usually burst into laughter. Monica and Anna start jogging through gallery 301, Medieval Art. The group follows out of necessity at first. If they don’t start running, they will get left behind. We run past the 800 year old St. Firmin Holding His Head and Saint Porchaire-Ware cups. As we pick up speed, the all too familiar chorus of Stayin’ Alive becomes an unexpected mantra. Monica and Anna break into jumping jacks at the feet of Perseus with the Head of Medusa. As the fifteen people struggle to sync up, there’s a palpable euphoria in the sudden irony. We move in order to stay alive, but a museum asks for stillness in order to preserve. We’re both fighting time, from different sides.
The thinking can’t last for long. We’re off marching into Ancient Rome to Elton John and Kiki Dee, pumping our arms as we fly past Sol Lewitt’s wall to Sly & The Family Stone, doing squats in front of Sargent’s Madame X, and balancing on one leg in front of Henry VIII’s field armor. It’s a 2 mile, 45 minute journey through the museum. We only visit 14 works of art, and then we revisit 7 of those a second time while listening to recordings of Maira Kalman talk about how she spends time in the museum.
“The Museum Workout” participants (Anna, Monica and Robert, center), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017
At 8:50 a.m. we are in Shavasana in front of Saint-Gauden’s Diana. I have the unfortunate job of telling everyone it’s time to send them back on their way. Without fail, they don’t get up. They want to stay lying down on the cold stone floor. They stopped deciding what to look at or how long to be with the art. They used their bodies. They breathed. Their blood flowed. They found a new way to feel and they will never be able to do it again.
A year into the project, the art looks different to us now. We look at Houdon’s Benjamin Franklin and hear Lionel Richie’s soulful mourning behind his eyes. We remember sweat running down on our arms in front of him in July. We remember trudging through a blizzard to see him in February. We remember looking at him on January 20th 2017 and thinking Ok, what now? We have a relationship now. It’s been made meaningful through movement, through music, and by spending time together, just like every show we’ve ever made.
Maira Kalman is an author, illustrator and designer, as well as a contributor to The New Yorker and the New York Times.
Robert Saenz de Viteri is the Creative Producing Director of Monica Bill Barnes & Company and a theater artist in Brooklyn, NY.
Monica Bill Barnes & Company is a contemporary American dance company, consisting of a team of collaborators – Monica Bill Barnes (Artistic Director/Choreographer/Performer); Anna Bass (Associate Artistic Director/Performer); Robert Saenz de Viteri (Creative Producing Director/Performer) and designers Kelly Hanson (Set/Costume) and Jane Cox (Lighting).