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.

Visiting the Tenement Museum

Mulberry Street on New York's Lower East Side, ca. 1900
Mulberry Street on New York’s Lower East Side, ca. 1900.

One of the most fascinating museums in the United States stands at the corner of Delancey and Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of New York City.

Stepping into the Tenement Museum is time travel into the lives of hardworking American immigrant families.

You pick your year. Would you like to see 1873? What about the depression of the 1930’s? Or a visit with an Irish family in the 1860’s, when a common line in employment ads was: Irish Need Not Apply. When you step into 97 Orchard street, you step back into a vital part of American history.

Joseph was off to work.

The coal stove was smoking a bit, but at least the kitchen was warm. Bridget put her hand on the baby’s forehead for a moment, then picked up the pail. Agnes had been sick for days, and was now weak from the dysentery. And it was wash day. She sighed. The weather was too poor to do the laundry outside, and that meant hauling a number of buckets of water up four flights of stairs. She opened the door and nearly ran into Mrs. Stein in the dark hallway.

Moore apartment kitchen, The Tenement Museum.
The Moore Apartment Kitchen. Photograph Courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

If you immigrated to New York in the 1860’s, this could have been part of your living experience on the Lower East Side.

Approximately 30 million immigrants entered the U.S. between 1870 and 1930, many of them coming through the port of New York — either to Castle Garden (Castle Clinton), or to Ellis Island which opened in 1892.

The population of New York city exploded — increasing more than 50 times over during the 19th century – going from 79,000 in 1800 to more than 3.4 million by 1900.

The demand for housing was extraordinary.

The nineteenth century answer to this problem?  The American tenement.

They were narrow buildings, 25×100 feet, and in New York, predominantly five or six stories tall. The apartments were normally three, sometimes four rooms, depending on the tenement, and around 350 square feet total. They were crowded and dark, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and poorly ventilated. There was no indoor plumbing until the early 1900’s.

It’s important to understand that living conditions in the tenements of New York varied dramatically.

The worst of the tenements were horrible — and were documented by Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives. However, there was a tendency for social activists of the day to lump all of the tenements together, focusing on the worst to help achieve change.

Of course things aren’t that simple — and understanding this may be one of the great gifts of visiting the Tenement Museum.

Tenement Hallway Lower East Side
The narrow first floor hallway of 97 Orchard Street. The Tenement Act of 1901 required lighting to be installed, but prior to that tenement hallways were dark, lit only from the entryway, skylights, and apartment transoms.  Photograph courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

From 1863-1935, more than 7,000 people from 20 different countries called 97 Orchard Street home.

The Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan brings this history to life for 220,000 visitors annually, more than visit many of the larger history museums in New York. It is an affiliate of the National Park Service, linked with the immigrant landmarks of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Castle Garden (Castle Clinton).

97 Orchard Street sign. The first tenement to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
97 Orchard Street. It is the first tenement to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

When I mentioned visiting the Tenement Museum, one of my friends envisioned glass cases with artifacts and dioramas. But it’s not that kind of museum.

The museum did research on residents of 97 Orchard Street, a combination of census data and genealogy, and then information, photographs, and recorded oral history from current families whose parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents had lived there. A group of apartments has been renovated to different points in the building’s history to represent the families that occupied them.

The only way to visit the Orchard Street tenement is one of the tours, which are interactive and story-telling in the way they are conducted. On both of my visits, there was animated discussion between the guide and the visitors, sharing history and discussing what life would have been like for the families whose homes we were visiting.

Current Tenement Museum Tours:

  • Hard Times (available in 1 and 2 hour versions)
  • Irish Outsiders
  • Shop Life
  • Sweatshop Workers (available in 1 and 2 hour versions)
  • Tastings at the Tenement
  • Exploring 97 Orchard
  • Coming Soon! 103 Orchard
  • Explore the tours in more detail

I’ve visited the Tenement Museum twice now.

When my daughter Catherine was fifteen, I brought her to NYC for her first visit. I’d read about the Tenement Museum, and I thought it would be a way to give her a true sense of the history of the city, something to juxtapose with the grandeur of, say, the Metropolitan Museum.

The Baldizzi Apartment at the Tenement Museum
The Baldizzi Apartment at the Tenement Museum. Photograph courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

We took the Hard Times tour, which focused on two families: the Gumpertz family (from Germany) during the crisis of 1873, and the Baldizzi family (from Italy) during the depression of the 1930’s.

Just last weekend, I returned for the Irish Outsiders tour. This time I visited the apartment of Joseph and Bridget Moore who lived at 97 Orchard Street in 1869.

Joseph and Bridget Moore’s parlor. The Moore’s lived at 97 Orchard Street in 1869. Photograph courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

My advice is to start with the Hard Times tour. Since it addresses two different time periods and families with different ethnic backgrounds, I think it’s a great introduction to the museum.

If you live in the United States, your family immigrated – unless you happen to be native American.

All of our families have interesting stories. Mine came to America in the 1700’s, Hugenots escaping religious persecution, and then a Scots-Irish family looking for a better future. Listening to different immigration experiences connects us on a deep level.

It just depends on when your ancestors arrived as to the types of hardships they faced. It is estimated that 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island.

Tenement Museum Shop and Bookstore

97 Orchard Street: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, a book by Jane Ziegelman.
97 Orchard Street: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, a book by Jane Ziegelman.

On both of my visits to the Tenement Museum, I was impressed by their shop. My readers know I love small, independent bookstores, and this is a fine one with a focused collection.

I brought home two books this time, A Tenement Story: The History of 97 Orchard Street, and The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and 97 Orchard Street: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement.

I am particularly taken with the 97 Orchard Street: An Edible History by Jane Ziegelman. Here is an excerpt of her book:

“Our visit with Mrs. Gumpertz begins on a Friday, late morning, over a steaming pot of fish, a carp. The fish lays snugly in an oblong vessel, like a newborn in a watery cradle. From our vantage point, it looks intact. In reality, however, the fish has been surgically disassembled and reassembled. It is the kind of culinary operation worthy of a trained professional, yet the responsible party is standing in front of us, an ordinary home cook.

The process begins with a slit down the backbone. Mrs. Gumpertz opens the fish the same way one opens a book. Carefully, she scrapes the flesh from the skin, chopping it fine so it forms a paste, what the French call a forcemeat. Reduced to a mere envelope, head at one end, tal at the other, it is now the perfect receptacle for stuffing. Mrs. Gumpertz fills the skin with the paste and sews it shut. She lays the reconstructed carp on a bed of fish bones and onions — sliced but unpeeled — then puts it on to simmer.

Just now, she is standing over the open pot, wondering if it needs more time. She prods it with a spoon; the fish is ready. She lifts the pot from the stove, moves it to a chair in the parlor, and leaves it there to cool by an open window. Moments before sundown, start of the Jewish Sabbath, she slices her carp crosswise into ovals and lays them on a plate. The cooking broth, rich in gelatin from the fish bones, has turned to jelly. The onion skin has tinted it gold. Mrs Gumpertz spoons that up too, dabbing it over the fish in glistening puddles. To a hungry Jew at the end of the workweek, could any sight be more beautiful?” — Jane Ziegelman

If you want to buy these books, please do it through the Tenement Museum Shop online, since proceeds go to benefit the  museum.

I encourage you to visit the Tenement Museum. I found both of my tours not simply interesting, but moving — a way of connecting to this important part of American history in a very personal way. I look forward to returning on my next trip to NYC!

The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, Lower East Side
The Tenement Museum of New York, corner of Orchard and Delancey. Photograph courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

When I visited last weekend, the Tenement Museum Shop was surrounded by a scaffolding, which made for a poor shot. Then I found that photographs inside of 97 Orchard Street is not allowed — which of course I respect. A big thank-you to the Tenement Museum of New York for sending the photographs!

Update note: One of my Facebook readers went to the Tenement Museum during the summer. Of course, there is no air conditioning in 97 Orchard Street. Just something to keep in mind if you are thinking about going on a really hot day!

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

About Ann

I grew up in Mississippi and New Orleans, have lived in both Seattle and Manhattan, and finally moved back to Texas in 1990’s.

I have a darling teenage daughter who heads off to university in the fall of 2017. I have been divorced and am now widowed. Finally, I am a colon cancer survivor.

I am now writing and traveling full time — what a wonderful thing!

This website is a forum for many things. I want to talk about life, in all of its rich, wonderful and terrifying forms. I want to share my travels, my thoughts on life, and my experiences as a woman and a mom. I want to talk about the nature of reality and the meaning of life, and to celebrate being alive.

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.


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Blackmar, Elizabeth. Manhattan for rent: 1785-1850. Ithaca: Cornell U Press, 1991. Print.

Blanck, Maggie. “Life in New York.” Life in New York. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://www.maggieblanck.com/NewYork/Life.html&gt;.

History.com Staff. “Ellis Island.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

Plunz, Richard. “A History of Housing in New York City Reprint Edition.” N.p., 1990. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

Seitz, Sharon. A tenement story: the history of 97 Orchard Street and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. New York, NY: Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 2004. Print.

Stamp, Jimmy. “Pioneering Social Reformer Jacob Riis Revealed “How The Other Half Lives” in America.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 7 May 2014. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pioneering-social-reformer-jacob-riis-revealed-how-other-half-lives-america-180951546/&gt;.

“The Tenement.” WTTW Chicago Public Media – Television and Interactive. N.p., 03 Apr. 2016. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. <http://interactive.wttw.com/ten/homes/tenement&gt;.

Ziegelman, Jane. 97 Orchard Street: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. Print.