In the Summer of 2012, Maria Denolt offered 4 guerilla tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, focusing on the museum’s modern and contemporary collections.
Working within the typical explanatory model of museum tours, these early performances tried to lay bare the collecting and exhibiting politics of large American museums while offering glimpses into art history. Maria led tour-goers in campy adulation for the most austere, minimal works of art while questioning the queer undertones of the collections’ more outlandish and bold pieces. Much like her outfit, the through-line of Maria’s narration fell apart intermittently. Maria’s failures hint at the ways the museum’s attempts to engage the public with art history and criticism through tours are often strained, tentative, and prone to failure. These tours attempted to raise Maria – as an art critic, lecturer, and lofty person – so high that when she fell all tour guides and docents fell with her. Art Maria couldn’t explain was not art.
In reflection, many of these early tours also failed insofar as they did not accomplish the intended goal of the Maria Denolt character – to narrow the gap between contemporary art and the public. Many of the tour-goers were artists themselves, or had significant backgrounds in art history. The ham-handed critiques of the Met were uninspiring, as most of these participants were well aware of political and ethical problems within the museum world. At the same time, these performances did experience some degree of success. Passersby and eavesdroppers were often confused or even angered by what Maria said. An obvious ‘drag’ of some kind was pulling on the authenticity and authority of the museum, the artists enshrined within, and the careers tied to its fate. Maria made it difficult to sustain belief in the Met and its curatorial practices simply by being a loud, bizarrely styled, and unafraid voice of un-reason.