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Sequins, Spandex and sculpture

by Rachel Corbett  |  12.08.2017
Sequins, Spandex and sculpture
Monica Bill Barnes dancers demonstrate the finer points of the Museum Workout at the Met (Photo: Mallory Lynn; courtesy of Monica Bill Barnes & Company)
The best art moves its viewers. But while it may raise the hair on the back of your neck or even bring tears to your eyes, it rarely makes you want to squat. Nevertheless squatting—as well as jumping, marching and stretching—is exactly what a group of visitors found themselves doing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently. A crowd of about a dozen art lovers in stretch pants and sports bras gathered at 9am, before the museum opened to the public, to take part in the Museum Workout—an exercise tour organised by Monica Bill Barnes & Company, a group known to “bring dance where it does not belong”. Two of their dancers, donning sequin dresses and sneakers, turned on Stayin’ Alive and off we marched through the gallery.

Our first stop was Antonio Canova’s statue of Perseus—who has exceptional marble abs, I suddenly noticed—holding the severed head of Medusa. We jumping-jacked and arm-raised our way on through the galleries of medieval armour, Melanesia and European sculpture to the American wing, where we squatted before John Singer Sargent’s elegant Madame X. Occasionally the music would pause, seemingly at random, and the voice of writer and illustrator Maira Kalman, who collaborated with Monica Bill Barnes on the project, would come on to recount charming anecdotal non-sequiturs, like how she sometimes wears shoes that are three sizes too big—her “Buddhist shoes”—in order to slow her down in life (because we’re all going to die anyway). Or how she likes to go to the hardware store after visiting a museum because the ladders are just as beautiful as art.

Forty-five minutes later, we laid on the floor of the skylit Charles Engelhard Court in front of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ bronze Diana. Ridiculed in her day for her immodest nudity, Diana now proudly aimed her bow and arrow into the sunlight of the Met, reminding us how important the body has always been in art museums.

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