Waiting online this weekend for the final days of the wildly popular McQueen exhibit at the Met turned into something of a sport: there were packed lunches to rival any tailgate (sans the Bud Lite), costumes and plenty of live Tweeting (see: Joe Zee). I know because I was one of those people.
15,000 people came to see the exhibit on Saturday alone and at midnight the line was still 1500 deep, according to the New York Times. According to the latest figures from the Met, all total 661,509 people came to see the McQueen retrospective, making Savage Beauty the eighth most popular exhibit in the museum’s history and the most popular ever from the Costume Institute.
A terrible procrastinator myself, I left my visit to the last week. It definitely wasn’t due to lack of interest… I just got really…busy. And who could have predicted that in the exhibit’s final days there would be a line to get into the line to get into the museum and waits would exceed three hours?
Want to know what it was like? Don’t worry, I chronicled the whole thing minute by minute:
Friday, August 5, 9:00am: Wake, throw on pre-selected outfit and sun hat, pack intense supplies for anticipated hours of waiting.
9:30: 4-train delays. Murphy’s Law loves the MTA.
10:15: Stop for giant iced coffee.
10:28: Approaching Met from the south, walking up Fifth, see a steady stream of well-dressed people carrying Met Store bags walking away from the Museum. These are the apparent earlier risers. I begin to worry.
10:31: Run into The Line just above 79th St. A construction worker at the parking garage entrance says this is the best he’s seen in a few days but that earlier the wait time was almost double and people have been arriving since 7am.
10:33: Begin to sweat, scope out the front of the building. The north line snakes around in erected barriers before extending for blocks up Fifth. I hear mention of a wait as far as 86th St. Woof. I decide to use my secret intel: the parking garage entrance.
10:34: Iced Coffee #2
10:43: Find parking garage entrance with a semi-line of 17 people in it. Score.
10:54: Line growing by the minute. No one has moved. The security guard stares blankly at us from the AC-ed lobby. This must be what purgatory is like.
11:08: We are told The Line for McQueen has closed. Pandemonium ensues.
11:09: The group of elderly Italian women behind me don’t understand what’s going on and keep trying to force themselves into the revolving door. The three Long Island women next to me exclaim they did not drive all the way out here for this bullshit. A child begins to cry. A poor female security guard is thrown to the wolves by her counterparts to fight off the masses and answer the ceaseless barrage of questions like “What’s going on?”, “What should we do?” and “How long do we have to wait?”
11:15: We are told we may enter the Museum in groups of 15 every 10 minutes but that the entire second floor is closed due to overcrowding. This apparently happens once a day around 11am, as the exhibit and line become so crowded they reach fire hazard status.
11:24: Finally I’m let inside the Met. Immediately go to Customer Service and ask their time estimates. They have no idea how long The Line will be closed for but they assume until at least 1:30pm. No one is allowed to even wait in line to start waiting in The Line; even if you make it to the second floor (stairs and elevators are currently off-limits), they shoo you away from the ropes. However, once The Line opens again there will still be a 2-3 hour wait in The Line to get to the exhibit. People are buying memberships left and right hoping to come back another day for the 8:30am member opening time. I wonder how many of them will use this membership again. **Note: The Met gained 23,000 new members during the exhibit’s run.
11:30: I wander aimlessly around, trying to decide if I should kill time until The Line reopens or take my chances another day. The idea of waiting in the Met for at least another four hours sounds terrible, even with my bag of sour gummies and chocolate pretzels.
11:40: Find an elevator going to the second floor! It opens to part of The Line at the entrance to the 19th Century Paintings gallery. Am told by the Line Guards that, while you can walk around these galleries, you may not cross over the sacred ropes of The Line. There are literal screaming fights going on between a Line Guard and some people who just bought memberships and do not understand that this still doesn’t allow them entry.
**Here is where I get crafty: Overhear a guard tell someone they may go look for their friend holding a spot for them in line. Lightbulb! I begin to troll the ranks for someone nice looking and a probably fashion sympathizer who might graciously allow me to step in line with them. Find a friendly-looking man with a backpack, who thinks I’m strange but lets me hop the rope (If you’re reading this, thanks Henry!). I have successfully infiltrated The Line.
11:50: Man discovers I am secretly eating candy from my purse when guards are not looking. I share, we bond. Line buddies! Aw.
12:10pm: Halfway there. The angush/frustration from the people walking aimlessly around is palpable. See photo.
12:30: Exhibit in sight! There are cheers of “We made it!” as people round the corner.
12:35: Last quick, blurry photo of the jostling mess before the guards bark out “No cell phones”. I have reached the promised land almost exactly two hours after arriving and avoided a potential four-hour-plus limbo. I gladly stow my phone and dive in.
Overheard waiting for, and during, McQueen:
“Stay close together… hold his hand… we should have brought the leash.”
“OMG EW, do you see those shoes that have toes on them?”
On the video of Naomi Campbell walking with a metal box holding her arms to her legs: “She looks like an ant. I don’t get it.”
“How do you wear a dress made out of wood?”
“Dude, this shit is trippy.”
Personal favorite: This old woman who described every dress in detail and why it was amazing to her even older husband. About a dress from VOSS (Spring 2001): “Look, see, this is made of jute, which is like burlap. He took the cheapest material and turned it into a thousand dollar dress. A potato sack dress in a museum, can you even believe it? It’s genius. My favorite. Do you see how amazing that is honey?” [Silence]… “Potatoes.”
“Look, it’s Lady Gaga’s shoes!” (here, my heart cried tears of frustration. PLATO’S ATLANTIS DESERVES MORE RECOGNITION THAN THAT)
And because I, too, found myself really choked up at the end:
“That was amazing but now…I’m really sad.”