Hold the Line: How the Met Manages the McQueen Mob

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010). Dress, autumn/winter 2010–11. Courtesy of Alexander McQueen. Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce. metmuseum.org
What they have all been waiting for, beyond the line. (Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce, metmuseum.org)

Already 582,000 visitors have passed through the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met since it opened in early May, but as the show counts down to its final days, the otherworldly lines will most likely be longer than ever. The museum, however, would prefer that you think of it not as a wait, but as an experience.

Around 400 people are admitted to the exhibit every half hour, and last week a record 51,000 visitors stood in line to see the collection, meaning some waited for two and half hours. (Last Saturday alone saw over 10,000 visitors, marking the first day 10,000 was reached since the museum began controlling access three weeks into the show.) But the line was designed to take visitors on an eclectic art tour beginning with Japanese ceramic figures in the Great Hall balcony before entering the ancient Near East room, moving on to Cyprus and finally arriving to the hall of European paintings and sculptures.

“One man’s obstruction is another man’s inspiration!” said senior spokesman Harold Holzer.

Realizing wait times could grow long, the museum created a pamphlet – “McQueen Line Trek the Taming of the Queue” – in May to help entertain patrons, and also developed a corresponding SCVNGR app. As the line snakes among the exhibits, connections “on this tailor-made route” are drawn to fashion: the patient patron is encouraged to examine the “fabulous footwear!” of Mesopotamia and the “animal accessories” from the Near East.

After all, as the pamphlet reads, “At the Metropolitan, there is beauty even in the wait.”

“Look, we know it’s not ideal,” Mr. Holzer said. “We know that people are not going to have an ideal view [but] this kind of thing happens once every ten years and hopefully people who are in the line will see enough that they’ll come back.”

Despite the crowd-calming distraction of art, the line must be maintained. In addition to the full time staff, the museum hired and trained a team to monitor the McQueen crowds, shuttling museum-goers from one section of golden rope to the other and ensuring no one cuts in front (unless, of course, he or she is a museum member).

The Observer stopped by last Wednesday, just in time for the line’s 4:30 close, an hour before the museum itself shuts its doors Tuesday through Thursday. The woman at the desk informed us that the wait had been about 2 hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. that day, but had shortened to an hour and a half in the late afternoon.

Melissa Ward and her friend, who held up the back of the line Wednesday evening, seemed unfazed. They had arrived to the museum at 3, and browsed other exhibits before simply sauntering into the end of the line for a 20-minute wait, without ever being offered a scavenger hunt guide.

“It’s moving quickly!” they declared, as they were shuffled in by 4:55.

Those exiting the exhibit, though, did manage to find one last line in which to spend their remaining Met minutes: the one leading to the gift shop cash register.

Hold the Line: How the Met Manages the McQueen Mob