Art museum visitors usually adhere to a certain set of rules while attending exhibitions; keep your voices low and do not touch the artwork. However, upon visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art, attendants might encounter a very different space. As a part of their Fringe Festival, the Philadelphia Museum of Art invited a performance group to showcase the art in a new light. New York-based Monica Bill Barnes & Company has thus created The Museum Workout. Previously a program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Monica Bill Barnes & Company were invited to create a new program for this specific space. With oldies hits blaring through the intercom system, the participating attending group, led by Artistic Director Monica Barnes and Associate Director Anna Bass, in glittering dresses and running shoes, jog through the gallery space, past masterworks by Titian, Matisse and Picasso. The Museum Workout stops at certain works to do squats and lunges, leading them through a 45 minute workout that doesn't necessarily act as a traditional tour.
Although the interactive performance takes place within the space, it does not point out or discuss specific works. With the voiced aid of children's book author Maira Kalman, the tour features an overhead commentary by Kalman that describes her specific art museum experience. Instead of commenting on artists, mediums or practices, Kalman examines her feelings towards the overwhelming quality of art, how they act as guardians over her, and even when the best time to walk away from the work is. This more personal content acts as a different entry point for some viewers, who may find art museums challenging to connect with and intimidating.
Her commentary paired with the fun oldies hits and the constant movement all aim to create a completely new viewing experience that has more to do with lifting our minds out of the veritable traditions of art viewing; this quiet reflection that we encounter. Museum Workouts wants to tap into the physical side to support a new understanding of the art; one that is perhaps more carnal and initially personal. By physically placing our minds into a different context, Museum Workouts successfully enables the connection of thoughts and feelings associated with the artwork that are rarely seen and even more rarely taught in traditional contexts.
Title image courtesy of Whhy.