A Night at the Met: an After Hours Visit with Michelangelo

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people! A review of an after hours VIP visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Michelangelo exhibit.

Metropolitan Museum facade at night during the Michelangelo exhibit
My After Hours visit to the Michelangelo exhibit: very special! Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people!

Michelangelo's sketch of Masaccio's fresco Expulsion from the Garden displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Michelangelo’s sketch of Masaccio’s fresco Expulsion from the Garden. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Met show, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, contains over 200 works of art by Michelangelo and his colleagues (133 drawings by the master himself), including chalk drawings, paintings, and works of charcoal on paper, along with bronze and marble sculptures.

The exhibit was eight years in the making. The exhibition’s curator, Carmen C. Bambach, started with a tour to Europe to visit the different works under consideration, and once a list was developed — then came the arduous process of soliciting the artwork.

Many of the drawings are rarely seen at all, and certainly not together. On the left is a very early sketch — the young Michelangelo’s Study of Adam and Eve after The Expulsion from the Garden fresco by Masaccio. It’s fascinating to see drawings from this period in the artist’s life.

In an interview with Artsy, Bambach said, “This is a drawing that hardly anybody has seen in the original other than the specialists,” says Bambach. “Though it’s housed in the Louvre’s collection, it is rarely seen. Having that very powerful drawing in red chalk and in the company of all [other] late 15th-century works…is really a first,” she says.

The exhibit is an extraordinary opportunity to see Michelangelo’s evolution from a young artist into a sculptor, then into a painter, and finally into an architect, through works of art that have never been displayed together at one time. Sadly, the exhibit runs only three months . . . and the clock is ticking: the end is coming quickly. It closes February 12, 2018.

In late January, about three weeks before the exhibit is set to close, The Met announced that over 500,000 people had already visited Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.

This is, of course, the problem.

My daughter Catherine went to see the exhibit in the fall, and although she was there when the museum opened, the Michelangelo exhibit was quickly swamped. It’s hard to feel a personal relationship with a work of art when you’re standing eight people deep trying to look at the same drawing.

And the crowds aren’t just for the Michelangelo exhibit. According to the New York Times, over the last 13 years attendance at the Met has soared from 4.7 million to over 7 million annual visitors.

Entrance to displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Entrance to the Michelangelo Exhibit. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

One of the most beautiful rooms in the exhibit was the space devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The illuminated copy of the ceiling in a 1:4 scale is displayed along with the master’s sketches of many of the figures in the fresco.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

As our world becomes more crowded, and more people travel, personal and quiet access to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the things I value most highly, and that I am willing to pay to have.

Second to last room in the displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
In an increasingly crowded world, access and quiet may be our greatest luxuries. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

A closing photograph from the Michelangelo exhibit, the Young Archer.

If you are not going to get to see the exhibit before it closes, consider getting the catalogue, which is one of the finest I’ve ever seen: you can find it here in the Met shop online.

Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information about my After Hours viewing

Wonderful story about two children who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum. As an adult, I STILL love this book! From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

The ticket I purchased through Viator granted access to both the Michelangelo and Hockney exhibits. I arrived twenty minutes ahead of my 6:00 admission, and entered the museum at a street level door at 81st Street, an area reserved for groups. They checked the After Hours ticket holders off the list, and whisked us up in two elevators.

We walked through a couple of rooms on the way to the Hockney and Michelangelo exhibits. No, you can’t just go rambling through the museum! All side rooms were cordoned off.

I have to admit, I was having twitchy feelings about sneaking away and trying to spend the night at the Met 🙂 . If you’ve ever had a desire to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you haven’t read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it’s wonderful.

Empty Rodin gallery on my way to A Night at the Met with the Michelangelo exhibit
I passed through several galleries on the way to the Michelangelo exhibit. Here is the empty Rodin gallery that I enjoyed looking around on my way out of the museum.

The night I went, there were three entry times to choose from: 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 pm. At each entry time, according to what I read, entry was limited to 150 people over the whole evening — staggered out fifty at a time, so that not everyone entered at once.

After Hours Viewings at the Met  — Availability for this will come and go. The After Hours viewing nights of the Michelangelo show are finished, but look for them to happen from time to time for exhibits that are particularly popular and crowded.

Viator VIP Empty Met  Regularly available: a 1.5 hour tour before the Met opens to the public. Note, you will be with a guide for the tour, but then you can stay for as long as you like, and see anything you like on your own, once the museum opens.

Viator VIP: Mornings at MoMa  A similar tour is available at the Museum of Modern Art.

Other Tips for Visiting the Met

While the strategies listed below may not work as well for special exhibits like Michelangelo, the entire Metropolitan Museum is SO HUGE that you can definitely have a quieter experience without paying a premium price:

  • Go on the weekdays, not the weekend. A no-brainer, right?
  • Go early, or stay late –Be there when the museum opens, or choose to visit one of the several nights each week that the museum is open late. Check out the Met’s hours.
  • Become a Met member . . . did you know that there are special early hours and evenings, only for members of the Met? Check out the schedule for upcoming members-only hours and events.
  • Try a concert — yes, you will have to pay extra for these, but there are always interesting performances happening at the Met and the Cloisters that allow you experience them in an entirely different way.
  • Dine at the Met. Somehow, there’s something pretty special about wine, food, and art. Take a look at the different eating and drinking venues at the Met on Fifth Avenue.
  • And really all of this means — do your homework. If visiting this amazing museum is an important part of your visit to NYC, look at the Met calendar as you are planning your trip!

Disclaimer: While I paid to take this tour, I do have an affiliate relationship with Viator, which means that if you book through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you, my reader. I use Viator’s services — and I particularly love the VIP access to museums, which I’ll be buying again. I never recommend things that I don’t love, believe in, and do. Thank you for your support! It makes this my work and this web site possible.

Additional info: I first found Viator VIP experiences when I was in Rome a couple of years ago. My friend Joyce had never been to Italy, and we had to do all of the crowded Roman sights. Since we were going to be there in the summer, I started doing research to find ways to see the Colosseum and the Vatican without lines — and without dying of heat.

The VIP experiences I have had with Viator in Rome have been very special: Breakfast at the Vatican, and Night Tour of the Coliseum with a rooftop dinner, both so good I did them twice: once with Joyce, and then the following year when my sister and I were in Rome. You can read about those here — Rome: Beating the Crowds.

Learning to Love Museums

Girl standing in front of a Picasso
My daughter Catherine at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. My work here is done — she now goes to the museum and takes her friends.

Want to make someone hate you?

Find a person who doesn’t know much about art and force them to spend hours as you drag them to every painting in every gallery in a museum while you read every placard as they fidget next to you.

Yep. I guarantee that by the end of the day, not only will they hate you, they’ll be damned sure they never get close to another museum again.

I can say this with authority.

You see, I have a degree in Art History, and I might be considered to be a very dangerous person when it comes to death by museum. Except for one thing. My mother taught me to love art, and she taught me a method for helping others to do the same.

Cafe at the Uffizi
Taking a caffeine break midway through touring the Uffizi in Florence.

It’s not rocket science. If you want someone to love something — make it pleasant, make it fun. Don’t punish them with it!

When my Mom took us to museums – the National Gallery in Washington, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, or the National Gallery in London — she would do this simple thing.

She usually had one or two artists, or perhaps an art period that she wanted to see. We would arrive at the museum, go to the shop and pick up a museum catalogue, then go sit and have coffee or tea and browse through the catalogue. My sister and I would both choose things we wanted to see, and then the three of us would set off to find those things. At other times, we would buy an audio tour and use that instead.

man using the audio guide: the British Museum My Way.
My husband Drew using the audio guide: the British Museum My Way.

Plan a Rational Museum Visit

I’ve spent most of my life teaching at the college level, and when I create lesson plans, human attention span is critically important. I work with 10 – 20 minute blocks, changing what we are doing — and being sure to involve my students. Then every 50 minutes to an hour, they need a break.

That’s the way I approach going with someone to a museum — whether it’s my daughter Catherine, my sister, my good friend Joyce, or my husband Drew.

With the internet, it’s easier than ever now  to do some pre-planning. If you are going to a world-class museum during a heavy tourist season, find out about getting tickets ahead — nothing makes a non-museum person grouchier than standing in line for an hour before your visit starts.

It’s also important to agree on about how long you’re going to spend at the museum so that everyone is on the same page.

Unless someone is heavily into art — you should limit the visit to 2 to 3 hours. If you are taking young children, or a really antsy adult, the time should be shorter.

Try to go to the museum early in the day — before it gets too crowded, and while you are still fresh. We all know that the more tired someone gets, the more difficult it is to pay attention.

Catherine with Autumn Landscape, Tiffany Studios.
I love the The Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing. Here’s Cat with the Autumn Landscape, Tiffany Studios.

When Drew and I went to the British Museum, we got the audio guide The British Museum Your Way. Then we also used one of the museums object trails: 3 Hours at the British Museum — great set of highlights with things we both wanted to see. We had lunch in the museum cafe halfway through. Stopping for a rest and refreshment is key. It does several things; most importantly, it allows you to process some of the things you have seen. My husband and I watched people. We chatted about the Ashurbanipal lion hunt. Then we picked up with renewed energy and went on to the next gallery.

When I took my daughter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the first time, she was fifteen. Before we went, we stopped and had coffee and Catherine thumbed through the Met website on my iPad. When we entered the museum we had a plan — and it was a great experience for her. We did the same thing on our next two trips to the city. Since then, Catherine’s been back to New York for a mock trial trip and to visit a university — and she has taken her friends and her Dad to The Met. I love museums, and it brings me great happiness to see I’ve raised another museum lover.

Catherine viewing Death Becomes Her, A Century of Mourning Attire.
Death Becomes Her, A Century of Mourning Attire. Catherine chose this exhibit to visit on her first trip to The Met.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art now has a smartphone app, The Met App, that can help you plan your visit. Another way to tour the Metropolitan is new to me — there is now Viator’s EmptyMet tour that I’d like to try the next time I’m in the city — the chance to visit the Metropolitan when it is closed to the general public.

But I Want to Spend ALL DAY at the Museum!

Yes, darling. I know that there is an art lover out there right now reading this and feeling very put out.

What if you’re in Paris for the first time and you think you may never see the Louvre again? And you just want to spend the WHOLE DAY wandering the galleries of the Louvre.

My advice? Do a short visit with the other person, then send them back to the hotel in a cab — afterwards, you can geek out with your art to your heart’s content. Obviously, if you have small children, this won’t work — but then you know that already.

The big thing is this — if you exhaust someone who doesn’t have the same level of interest you do — and make them hate museums, then you’ve done everyone a disservice.


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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