wanderlust

Confessions of a Gallery Girl Pt. 7: Vices Of The Met Gala

As a fresh-faced teenager, the best part of landing an apprenticeship at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was having permission to walk out of school two hours early and doing my art history credit as an independent study. That's what I thought at first anyway, when I heard that I'd scored a place in Costume Institute – but then, my priorities were a little skewed at the time. Sure, it was pretty cool getting an ID card that gave me access to the underbelly of the behemoth institution. When it was closed, I could march pass the crowds of confused tourists smugly, taking my time to enjoy the galleries they couldn't. I relished my new, intimate familiarity with all the departments. Down under the Egyptian wing where the costume institute was hidden, however, there was an undercurrent of excitement in anticipation for the coolest thing of all: the annual Met Gala that was anchored around the fashion exhibits.

Bright Lights Will Inspire You?

Being employees of the museum, we could buy tickets at the discounted rate of $60 a pop (a deal considering the standard $600 entry fee, or the $10,000 cost for a plate if you wanted to go to the dinner before the party). Of course we would all be going, and we scoured the archives for outfit inspiration; from the box of ancient binding shoes (some of the bigger ones almost fit me!) to the floor length coat made entirely of swan's down (which I would bury my face into whenever I had a free minute to sneak off, wondering how many thousands of swans had their neck fluff harvested to make the softest material I ever felt).

The Gala is every bit a red carpet event as the Oscars. On the night of the party, black cars and limos lined fifth avenue leading up to the barriers that kept the paparazzi out and the white tents full of gift bags, press and lighting equipment in. The exterior was unrecognizable as the proud home of some the world's greatest antiquities, receding into the shadows behind colorful spotlights and the photog's blinding strobes.

The entrance was guarded even more heavily than during regular visiting hours, where months earlier I had sheepishly pushed a quarter across the ticket counter when I was strapped for the suggested donation amount but had a paper due on early impressionism. The lobby had been transformed with floral arrangements the size of elephants that might have been appropriate for a royal wedding, and the familiar displays were hidden behind dazzling celebrities and their black-tie attire. 
 
A Dark Turn
 
At first I was awestruck with the glamor of it all. All my time making labels for the slide library, sorting 300-year-old books on etiquette and helping to make paper wigs for the mannequins seemed to have an amazing payoff. But as the night went on, my opinion of the epic event took a dark turn. I had kind of liked the idea of a bar at every turn, and even more so that no one bothered to care that I was five years shy of legal drinking age. Champagne glass in hand, I wandered through the galleries, marveling at how strange the Egyptian wing looked, crowded not by visitors in khakis and fanny packs, but by the elegant upper crust of society—or clever social climbers—who didn't seem to notice the 3,000-year-old sarcophagi behind the bartender. 
 
Oh the wonderful art of social climbing: click here for tips. Photo: Chris Phillips
 
While I was taking it all in, gaining an inkling of the disregard that the alleged "supporters" of the museum had for it's contents, I noticed a portly, red faced man in a tux teetering near a red rope border, cigarette in hand. In a flash, I imaged the room in flames, Horace the hippo lost to the ages as the drunken crowd was quietly ushered to an unharmed section of the museum. Shaking off the nightmare fantasy and the drunk man who had taken an interest in me despite our 50+ age difference, I decided to clear my head and look for my fellow interns who had told me they'd be on the dance floor.

I followed the pounding bass of music to find it's source, trying to ignore the threats of lit cigarettes that would normally get someone booted from the premises. At that point, I shouldn't have been surprised, but there I was, stopped short with a dropped jaw, creating a bottle neck at the entrance to the Sackler Wing. The usually serene, wide open space was literally shaking from the music coming from a DJ stand, situated just outside the Temple of Dendur – a structure dated 15 B.C. which had been lovingly installed to share the concepts of religious and mythological symbolism with the public. But on that night, it had been converted into a dance floor.

I eventually loosened up and had some fun, but all the while a nagging feeling pulled at the back of my head. Something about it wasn't right; it didn't quite fit my image of what the MET was supposed to be and the tradition of conservation it had been created to do. But I guess if you have ten grand to blow on dinner, you can do whatever you want. Hey, at least I got to dance with Vera Wang — she even told me that she liked my dress.

Article by Anonymous Gallery Girl