If I’m lucky, I get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art maybe a few times a year, but it’s one of musician and artist Micah Gaugh’s favorite places in the city so he goes far more often than I do. For him, it’s a place to check out completely, to see something new, to make fun of the artwork, to wander and, on a day like today, escape the sleet-snow-wind combination plaguing the city.
Micah is originally from Panama, was raised in Texas, and lives in Brazil part of the year. The rest of the year, he stays in the East Village, where by this point he has spent much of his life. Credited with coining the phrase and genre “avant-pop,” Micah has performed with music greats like Arto Lindsay, Cecil Taylor, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, Bootsy Collins, Thurston Moore, and countless others. He plays alto saxophone, piano, bass, and more; he sings, writes lyrics, and composes. One of his compositions, a ballet called Highrise, was performed at Lincoln Center. He has four albums under his belt, the latest possibly coming this year. As a visual artist, Micah has shown his work around the world as well.
When Micah arrives at the Met to meet me, he’s wearing a suede poncho of layered colors, a black furry coat, paint-patterned jeans, a brown blazer with a checked shirt and a polka dot ascot of sorts from which hang a teeny stuffed animal, chains, a small skull.
Though the museum is teeming with tourists, as it always is, Micah knows his way around well enough that soon we’re no longer immersed in the throng. Today I will see parts of the museum I didn’t know existed, from the simple coat check downstairs for which there is no line, to the below-ground entrance, to rooms of medieval and Renaissance decor, a Frank Lloyd Wright on-site installation, a recreation of a traditional Shaker room, an ancient iron staircase, Tiffany lamps, and god knows what else. We also end up seeing work that Micah didn’t know about, even as someone who comes to the museum several times a year. He knows where his favorite things are--like an enclave between Medieval Art and Arms and Armor that houses a bedroom circa 1719 from Venice’s Sagredo Palace--but has to wander to find them because that’s how he found them in the first place.
Toward the end of our visit to the museum, we check out one of Micah’s favorite works in the collection, “Allegory of the Planets and Continents,” an oil sketch by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from 1752. The sketch shows the god Apollo about to embark on his daily trip across the sky. Micah puts on a pair of big, black Jackie O-style glasses to look at it before we move on. We’ll soon make our way down the museum’s grand stairs, take a peek at the Egyptian collection, and head back out into the sleet which will stick to Micah’s poncho as he walks away.
So here we are, one year later, and I can hardly believe it.
Sometimes I wonder if the perpetuation of a project depends less on its end goal than the ability to just think about what’s coming next: who am I profiling this week, next week, the week after? On the days when I didn’t necessarily have an answer, I had to have faith that I would connect with a subject in time for the coming Wednesday. In every case, it turns out, I was right to trust in the uncertainty and chaos, and everything would be fine. I think in this way Miss Manhattan Hangs Out has taught me to be more present, that there’s only so much you can plan on before you have to let go.
I originally started this project because I wanted to push myself as a photographer more. How could I show I could do the work I wanted to be getting? Perhaps the easiest way was to give myself the assignments and see what happened. It’s not an overnight process, and it keeps going. Every day is an opportunity to think differently about how you make images, and I do notice positive changes in my work that have been brought on by this project, whether it’s from forcing myself to develop a narrative structure or thinking about how I edit images or the kinds of visuals I keep creating and how I can push myself to go beyond those comfort zones or even just taking fewer pictures and making each time I press the shutter really count. I think I still have a lot to learn, but I think anyone who creates...anything...does. I find that pursuit of knowledge more exciting and less daunting because I have seen myself work through at least one phase of it and that’s encouraging. Little victories, I always say.
This project also taught me how much can change in a year. How our perspectives shift and how our experience of the world grows with every person we meet, every shutter click, every day out where we had no idea what to expect. I am grateful to the subjects of this project, without whom it would not exist, for allowing me opportunities to access change in myself, to see what I want and what I’ve been missing in my own life and work and outlook simply by spending time with them. It has been an honor and a pleasure to be invited in, to drink tea and bloody marys and see museum exhibitions and watch cabaret performances and visit studios and classes and and and…
In celebration, as with our last check-in, here are some never-before-seen images from the last six months. Please subscribe to Miss Manhattan Hangs Out and tell a friend to! And if you’re interested in being a subject or know someone who might, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m excited to see what this next year will bring.