Museums have good reasons for asking visitors to restrain their physical exertions. Human clumsiness can lead to expensive disasters – a few years ago a hapless guest at New York’s The Met tripped and put an arm through Picasso’s ‘The Actor’ (estimated worth $130m) while in 2006 a stray shoelace launched a man down the stairs at the Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, straight into a trio of valuable Qing Dynasty vases.
Recently however, museums have been ignoring the risks of combining art and activity, offering innovative takes on exercise classes that occur among their installations.
One of these is The Museum Workout at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a collaboration between MetLiveArts, Monica Bill Barnes & Company, and artist/illustrator Maira Kalman that takes visitors on a dynamic early-morning voyage through the museum’s collection.
Those lucky enough to get a space on the now-sold-out tour are guided on their early morning journey by a pair of dancers in glittering cocktail dresses and trainers. They perform a range of heart rate raising movements including speed walking, jumping jacks and lunges.
This energised take on the art tour clearly appeals to the public. On its initial announcement, the performance sold out, and when the run was extended in February this year, all tickets were snapped up in an afternoon.
Let’s face it, who wouldn’t swap a gym for star-jumps in the 19th-century surrounds of the Met?
An appetite is also growing for expanding the impact of yoga classes with unusual locations. For the past few years, New York’s Brooklyn Museum has opened up the dramatic Beaux-Arts Court for classes, while the Victoria and Albert Museum has a monthly event that includes a yoga class and a guided tour of the collection. In the summer months, both deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts and Storm King Art Centre in New York offer outdoor classes among their sculptures.
It’s not just museums – Londoners can lessen the agony of a chair pose with the view from the top of The Shard, and until last year lessons were being held at the peak of Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit observation tower in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
So why relocate one’s workouts to spaces more commonly associated with breathless reverence than being out of breath? And why are curators risking their priceless pieces to the threat of a clumsy yoga transition?
For Limor Tomer, general manager of MetLiveArts, The Museum Workout ‘ingeniously tweaks the age-old questions, “what is art?” and “why does art matter?” and gets at these questions by way of a rigorously physical and intellectual workout’.
It also presents previously unasked questions, no less important, such as how the experience of John Singer Sargent’s ‘Portrait of Madame X’ is altered by performing squats to a disco beat.