Anticipating the glory of Game of Thrones premiere this Sunday, I went to a Game of Thrones themed museum tour at The Met yesterday. It’s hosted through Museum Hack for the next couple of weeks. You can check out the description of this tour and others (e.g. ‘Badass Bitches’ and ‘Un-Highlights’) here.
Overall I loved this high-octane 90 minute tour. My guides, Kylie and Anna, were hilarious and knowledgeable about The Met, Game of Thrones, and the unexpected (yet perfectly sensible) combination of the two.
Even if you think GoT is about a group of women who take cribbage very seriously, you’d probably enjoy stories about blades forged by hen urine and human blood, as well as tour guides quips (one of my favorites: “The Dutch love a good spanking”).
Museums really don’t have to be boring, and I’m glad to see Museum Hack working to change that perception. Here’s a few other reasons why the GoT tour was splendid:
Kylie and Anna walked very, very fast for tour guides, and I loved zipping through crowds on official business. The pace set a completely new tone and it was a welcome relief from the typically turgid pace of traditional tours. (I started to feel some sadness for a few miserable looking groups I passed; at one point I locked eyes with a young man in the midst of a great yawn).
This little game encouraged people to be alert throughout. Even while blowing past some pretty famous works of art, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Instead it felt like building up a general map of The Met. The super fast pace encourages you to own the art; you’re walking around these works to engage, not necessarily to stop, stare, and golf clap.
This game had a nice little conclusion too. The person who took the most photos of birds and dragons (without being “sabotaged,” or being photographed in the act) was crowned ruler of the Iron Throne. The ruler won a pretty sweet (and pretty petit) sword. (Yours truly came in third. How will I recover?)
See new parts of the Met
What most surprised me was how the tour swirled through all these nooks of the Met I’ve never ventured through. I live near The Met, have called NYC my home for five years and went on private tours with Met staff. But still, I walked down hallways of Islamic art I never passed before. I also got through the American section without yawning–not even once. I usually bypass the armor section because I’m all about that paint, but this time I was pretty intrigued to learn that The Met has Henry VIII’s armor, from the time when he was pretty fit and young to decades later, when he gained some heft and gout and required an expandable chest plate (the pictures below are from his pre and post chubby period, respectively).
Marble Leaf Droppings
It was also pretty great to hear the point of a piece explained with incisive humor. I recall seeing Adam by Tullio Lombardo a few years ago when The Met held an exhibition to celebrate the statue’s restoration.
I didn’t quite get the severity of the statue’s plummet until Anna explained that a pillar buckled and the 6’3 statue fell to the ground, cracking into thousands of pieces, which to a group of people whose mission is the preservation of art, is their worst nightmare realized.
Along with this animated retelling, I got to hear the spectacular story behind Adam’s little leaf. So, the glutinous Borgia Pope (Alexander VI) wanted to seem a little more respectable, so he ordered for all naked statues around the Vatican to be covered with elegant, plaster leafs. Only problem with that is that plaster weighs a lot more than marble, and over time, these leaves (and what the leaves covered) fell off. Apparently if you ask to see the “marble statue droppings” at the Vatican museum you can be led to the rooms where all the severed members lie.
Clever GoT comparisons
- Melisandra and fortune telling with Zoroastrianism (with support of trusty iPad)
- Clock in the opening Credits of GoT
- Toulouse-Lautrec and Tyrion Lannister and their fascination with prostitutes and possessions of macrophalluses
Museum Hack versus regular tours
When I worked at The Morgan Library & Museum, I went on some wonderful tours of the Martin Luther and Emily Bronte exhibits. But some weren’t so hot. At least once a day someone swung by the front desk with a complaint — the tour was too fast, the guide was too loud, they didn’t cover my favorite piece from 1776. I don’t imagine any of these complaints having merit with this tour. Museum Hack seems confident of what they offer too, and have what they call a five star policy: if you didn’t want to give the tour five stars, they encourage you to get a refund.
There are so many variables that go into a free museum tour: does the docent have time to prepare, is the group too large, will there be a lot of monotone, will the space be too small for a comfortable experience, will a whole lot of non-tour people give you the stank-eye throughout?
This tour was very well planned ahead of time. Space, guide quality, and breadth/depth of pieces covered wasn’t an issue. With 14 people this group was a bit larger than their usual group of 9, but still a lot better than some free tours at The Met or The Morgan, which can easily reach 30 people.
While Museums offer alternative tours and “fun” activities, the number of approval and committees that go into planning these official tours lack the spontaneity and unique stories these tour guides chose to illustrate. Museum Hack is definitely filling a void in the Museum Goer’s palette. As Mark Rosen, lead tour guide for Museum Hack, said in one interview, “We decided to create Museum Hack to appeal to the folks who visit museums, but don’t find them super exciting or particularly accessible.” I would say they’re definitely fulfilling their mission.
Museum Hack is an amazing way to re-experience The Met. You will go through the non-intuitive yet extraordinary paths throughout the Met, and hear stories in a succinct, entertaining light that you just won’t get with a regular docent. It’s really worth the ticket, whether you’re here for a few days or were born at St. Vincent’s.
With that said, I wouldn’t recommend it for people who are in the mood to really contemplate a work, who walk on the slower slide, aren’t big into surprises, or who like to ask a lot of questions. I don’t think Museum Hack will replace traditional guides anytime soon, but they do offer a rich and unique compliment to the museum experience. Really, I can’t think of this kind of tour offered anywhere else.
True to the tour’s descriptions, there were many surprises: plots to murder the guides, a photo op near a whispering statue, and (my favorite) chocolate distribution in a cellar that looked a bit like the Sept of Baelor.
Please enjoy that fantastic explosion here:
Check out some of Museum Hack’s GoT/fine art mashups here and find a hand to hold during the premiere tonight!