The Rachel Report

Sequins, Spandex and sculpture and MoMA

Monica Bill Barnes dancers demonstrate the finer points of The Museum Workout at MoMA Photo: Mallory Lynn, courtesy 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. 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.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 293 September 2017