How I learned to stop hating and love museums | Nick Gray | TEDxFoggyBottom


Translator: Kaoru Suzuki
Reviewer: Denise RQ I hate museums. I think they are boring. The paintings have nothing to do with me. My feet hurt. (Laughter) Get me out of here. That’s how I felt
until about four years ago when I had an amazing experience. A woman brought me
to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a romantic date. (Applause) Thank you very much. True story. It was our third date. This is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. A lot of you have probably been there. It’s the most popular museum
in all of America. It’s the second most popular museum
in the entire world, and yet, to me and my friends
in New York City, this place, this museum,
is just a tourist attraction. This is the type of place you go
when your parents are in town. I didn’t have a relationship
with it until that night. She said, “Let’s go
to the museum,” and we went. It was the middle of December
on a Saturday night. The museums open late
on Friday and Saturday nights. It looked something like this. As we walked around, she began to give me a private tour
showing me things she liked. I saw paintings, and sculptures, Egyptian artifacts, and furniture. I don’t know if it was the very romantic
mood lighting that night, or maybe it was the snow
falling down in Central Park, or maybe it was just having
a very attractive woman talk to me. (Laughter) But something magic happened,
and that night I fell in love with the museum. (Laughter) (Applause) I’m not joking. I really fell in love
with the museum. I started going there
every single weekend. I became obsessed. It unlocked within me
a sense of curiosity about history and art that I never knew that I had. I worked during the week. I sold electrical equipment for planes. But during the weekend,
this became my new hobby. I did audio tours. I followed docents. I looked things up on Wikipedia.
I found YouTube videos. I loved it so much that I started doing
free tours for my friends. These are some photos of those tours:
me showing my friends around the museum, my favorite things. It’s helpful to keep in mind
that I was a business major in college. I’ve never taken an art history class. These were not very sophisticated tours. They were basically
ten cool things I found, and three things that I wanted to steal. (Laughter) On my tours, I would bring
my friends to an object like this. This is a Goa stone case
made in the early 1700s on the west coast of India
meant to house a Goa stone. This was a ball
about the size of a pool ball that the Jesuit priests believed
had magical mystical properties. It was worth way
more than its weight in gold. They thought that you could shave off
a piece of a Goa stone and put it into a cup of tea,
and it would cure any type of poison. They thought that you could drop
a Goa stone into the well, and it would cure the plague
for a 100 miles around. These cases were incredible. During my tours, we would get down
on our hands and knees and press our faces up to the glass. We would look — (Laughter) We would look at the craftsmanship. I would ask my friends, I would say, “Think about this. What would you put
inside of it if you stole it?” (Laughter) Their answer, by the way,
was usually chocolate or drugs. (Laughter) So those were my museum tours. My friends told their friends,
and their friends told their friends. It became like the go-to thing to do on a Friday or Saturday night
in New York City. We did birthday parties
that looked like this. (Laughter) A blog wrote about my tours,
and the next day, 1,000 people emailed me
wanting to join one of the tours. It was becoming a very full-time hobby. (Laughter) I started to recruit my friends
to help me out. I’m happy to tell you today that two years ago, I quit my job,
and I have spent every day since then trying to reimagine
the adult museum experience. The name of my company is– – Thank you! – (Applause) The name of my company is Museum Hack. I’m going to tell you what we do
that is different from most museum tours and why I think this matters. Three main things that make us different:
guides, games, and gossip. (Laughter) Let’s start with guides because tour guides are
the heart and soul of our business. They are the reason why visitors love us,
come back to us, and tell their friends. We hire people from a diverse set
of backgrounds. We hire scientists, art history majors, we hire actors, and educators. We hire people like this guy. His name is Miles. Miles loves the American wing, and he does this amazing
“Washington crossing the Delaware.” We hire people like this guy. This is Ethan. He is an educator. (Laughter) Ethan likes this painting. (Laughter) Here’s the thing. When we hire our tour guides, we think that storytelling
is more important than art history. (Applause) Today’s audiences have to be entertained
before they can be educated. So we start with passion first. Our guides write all of their own routes. They come up with their whole tour because they have to talk about things
that they are very, very excited about. You can imagine they have a lot to share. On the average Museum Hack tour, you see two to three times
as many objects as most museum tours. With us, you see 10, 15,
sometimes 20 objects. We move so fast in fact
that every single tour starts with a game. The guide says, “Listen. Before we begin, I need everybody to huddle up
and put your hands in the middle.” It’s really how all of our tours start. The guide says, “We need to move very quickly today.
We have to act as a team. We’re going to start off
with little cheer. we’re going to say ‘MUSEUM,’
and we’re going inside.” (Laughter) That’s really how all the tours start. They go MU-SE-UM,
and they hustle inside to begin. We are selling museum adventures
not museum tours. Have you ever been at an art gallery? You are looking at the art, and instead of feeling inspired
or excited, you start yawning. (Laughter) You feel tired and overwhelmed. This is a real thing that happens. It is called gallery fatigue. (Laughter) We’ve developed a week of fatigue-fighting
exercises to combat those; we’ll do yoga in the modern
and contemporary gallery. (Laughter) We’ll do squats in the stairwells. We love to take pictures on our tours. We encourage selfies. (Laughter) Let’s be honest, by the way,
you look awesome in a museum. We love to take pictures, we do games,
we have prizes, and we do challenges. We are trying to attract a whole new type
of audience to the museum, people who think
that maybe they don’t like museums. I’m so excited about what we are doing, but my favorite part
of the tour is the gossip. I love to tell people
the juicy back stories behind the art. Some of my favorite visitors
who show up are people who we lovingly refer to as finance bros. (Laughter) These are people who are first
in their income category, and they are first in intelligence, but oftentimes, the last place
they want to be is at the museum. So they get dragged there
on a date or something. When they come,
we welcome them to the museum. We identify them. (Laughter) We say, “Tonight, we are going to start
the tour in a totally different way. We are going to start and go to the piece that the museum paid
the most cash money for.” (Laughter) So we take them up the stairs
on the second floor into a tiny, little room to show them
this tiny, little painting. It was painted by an artist
named Duccio in the year 1300. Duccio was a pre-Renaissance master
to put this in perspective. Before Duccio, art was
what’s called Byzantine. It was 2D, like a comic book,
no interaction. Duccio comes up and blows it up. He makes this relationship
between the characters. On our tours, we get people
to crouch down and look up at this. It’s tiny. It’s about
the size of an iPad. In the year 2004, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
spent over 45 million dollars. That’s over a million dollars
per square inch. We get down — (Laughter) We get down, and we look
at Jesus brushing aside the veil on Virgin Mary’s blue cloak. You look at that interaction between Mary glancing down at Jesus
with his peanut-shaped head. (Laughter) Duccio knew how to paint babies. By the way, he was painting Christ
like this to signify the man child that he was about to become. That’s why sometimes you see
baby Jesus with a six-pack. (Laughter) We know that we have been
successful when we talk about this piece if afterwards, they say, “That was really interesting. What else do you have here
that’s expensive?” (Laughter) It’s controversial to talk about
how much things cost in an art museum. But that’s what our visitors want to hear. We are not afraid to talk
about controversial things. I mean, our slogan is,
“Museums are freaking awesome.” (Laughter) Guides, games, and gossip. But why do we do this? Why museums? Why does this matter? I have to tell you about my favorite piece
of art in the entire world. I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum now more than 300 times
in the last three years. Every single time I see this piece,
I get butterflies in my stomach. It’s a life-size little sculpture. It is called “Fragment of queen’s face.” While it may look new to you,
this is very, very old. It’s an Egyptian artifact
over 3,000 years old. We don’t exactly know who it is. There is a lot of mystery. It could be Nefertiti.
It could be a woman named Queen Tey. It’s made from a material
called yellow jasper. There are two things you need
to know about yellow jasper. Number one: at the time this was made,
yellow jasper was incredibly rare. It was so rare that the next largest piece
of yellow jasper in the whole museum is no bigger than your thumbnail. So this would’ve been a really big deal;
the face and the hands. The second thing about yellow jasper
is that it is insanely hard to work with. On the hardness scale of 1 to 10, where diamond is a 10, marble is a 3, yellow jasper is a solid 6 pushing a 7. It makes marble look
like a stick of butter. I was talking to the curator
about how much I like this piece. He said, “You know what’s incredible? That not only do we not know who it is;
we don’t know how it was made.” This is a very hard stone.
It is a semi-precious stone. “Beyond all of that, there are
no surviving examples of tools which could have been used to get
the definition and polish on those lips.” This woman heard us talking,
and she stuck her head in, and she goes, “I bet it was the aliens.” (Laughter) She did not work
at the museum, by the way. (Laughter) This is my favorite piece because I look
at this, I see those lips, and I think, “If the lips looked like this, can you imagine what the rest of it
would have looked like?” (Laughter) She would have been presented
to the Pharaoh, maybe wearing a Nubian wig
and a dress made entirely out of feathers. I think that this is
what a great piece of art is. Today I can see this,
and it takes my breath away. 3,000 years ago, I couldn’t communicate
with the Egyptians. I don’t speak the language,
and I can’t read hieroglyphics. But today, I can see those lips,
and I can feel something. A great piece of art
can communicate through time. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
is an encyclopedic museum that has over 5,000 years
of human history. The greatest compliment
that I ever got after one of our tours came from a music video director
from Los Angels. He said, “I’ve been on this tour
with you for two hours now. I never would have been here. I’ve walked through these halls, I’ve seen these objects that are 100,
that are 500, and that are 1,000 yeas old. I’ve seen these objects that are 100,
that are 500, and that are 1,000 yeas old, that have withstood the test of time. l look at my own work, and I wonder
if that will stand the test of time. Being at this museum has made me
want to be a better creator.” My name is Nick Gray. The name of my company is Museum Hack. I think that the museums
are freaking awesome. (Applause)

16 thoughts on “How I learned to stop hating and love museums | Nick Gray | TEDxFoggyBottom

  1. Love this. Our staffers here are already doing your top 3 Guides + Games + Gossip 
    "museum adventures not museum tours" yes yes yes!
    We are excited to follow you!

  2. Once again, Nick, you have outdone yourself.  So proud of you and how innovative this business is.  I loved the experience I had on the adventure.

  3. I love museums and art. But yes, some time it makes your feel tired and sleepy too, often it feels too quite and serious! The way you doing seems much fun! Thank you for sharing.

  4. The talk sounds extremely formulated and dramatized to me. But I appreciate the speaker's effort anyway. I believe he'd give better speeches on the fly.

  5. I kinda got goosebumps when he talked about the fragment of a queen's head, it's just so beautiful. I hope I can visit the Met someday..

  6. Jedes Museum dieser Welt spiegelt eine Welt dar in der man ganz genau erkennt das alles eine Sadhistische Gehirnstoffwechselverarsche ist!!!!
    Ich hätte ganz alleine den 2ten Weltkrieg gewonnen!!! Es ist besser weg zu schauen!!!

  7. Every museum in the world reflects a world in which one realizes that all is a sadistic brain metabolism !!!!
    I would have won World War II all by myself !!! It is better to look away !!!

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