First, take a few minutes to watch this short, hilarious video.
Now, here’s some of the back story.
The Bare Square talked to the head prankster, Charlie Todd, founder of New York-based prank collective Improv Everywhere. Todd told The Bare Square that the idea for the prank came to him from eventual king impostor Chadwick Elliott, who e-mailed Todd in September of 2009.
Said Elliott to Todd, “The mission I would like to propose is to cause a scene in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the museum there is a painting of King Philip the IV of Spain and I look identical to him.”
We agree that Elliott looks like the famed Velázquez painting. (There’s also a slight resemblance between Elliott and Facebook founder Mark Zuckberberg, don’t you think? We digress.)
In the few months it took for Elliott to put together a costume, the Met pulled the painting from exhibition for restoration. Elliott and Todd would have to wait. So they waited. And waited.
Over a year later, a feature story in the New York Times announced the return of the portrait, and the Met offered a surprise. After the artwork returned from restoration, experts announced confirmation of the authenticity of the artwork as coming from the hand of the famed 17th century master rather than simply coming from his workshop or apprentices, as had been announced by the Met in 1973. (Check out the fascinating article about the details of the restoration, complete with before-and-after photos, here.)
Not only had Todd and Elliott regained their opportunity, but one of the most important newspapers in the world gave them free publicity as well. The Times had ensured some level of crowd interest. Time was of the essence, and Elliott was scheduled to move permanently from New York in a matter of days. Todd acted quickly.
“We researched all of the museums rules and regulations to figure out the best way to stage it. I’d say about a week passed between the New York Times article and our project,” said Todd.
With a total crew of four videographers, one photographer, and the two actors, they entered The Met with their photographs of the King ready for free autographing and distribution and pulled their stunt.
As with most of Improv Everywhere’s pranks, the happening resulted in some smiles, some confused looks, and a little stress for the security guard. But no one seemed to mind all that much, and with the video garnering over 500,000 views in just a couple of weeks, I’d say The Met benefited.
Said Todd, “Hopefully in the end our video gives positive exposure to the Met and to the painting itself.”
A while ago The Bare Square wrote about the Google Art Project, where web surfers can visit 17 major art museums around the world and see high-resolution images of many of the artworks. Unfortunately, the Velázquez portrait isn’t one of the featured works, so you’ll have to go to the Met in person.
Check out the scene of the prank at:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York
Google Map: Here
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[Editor's Note: LAST DAY. As we announced last week, we're donating all profits from prints sold at The Bare Square Store to the Sendai quake disaster relief efforts of the Red Cross. Read last week's article, then go to the store and pick your limited edition print, available exclusively from The Bare Square. Today is the last day.]