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The Met’s ‘Nasty Women’ tour spotlights history’s often forgotten heroines

Tour creator Andrew Lear makes stops at women from a range of eras, including ancient Greece, ancient Egypt and 18th century France.

Andrew Lear, founder and president of Shady Ladies

Andrew Lear, founder and president of Shady Ladies Tours, leads a group through the Metropolitan Museum of Art on his "Nasty Women" tour on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

A group of women — and a few men — stood in front of Gertrude Stein inside the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, marveling at just how disinterested she looked.

They were taking in Pablo Picasso’s portrait of his patron and friend as they made their way around the cavernous institution as part of Andrew Lear’s Nasty Women museum tour.

Lear, who runs the Nasty Women tours year-round under his company Shady Ladies Tours, has upped the game: adding more outings for Women’s History Month.

“Everyone knows ... there’s a lot of interesting stuff at the museum they’re not telling you,” Lear said, adding his tours “gives people a kind of orientation. I think we succeed a little bit in making the museum a little less intimidating.”

The idea for his latest tour, focused on powerful women, came from one of the 2016 presidential debates. He launched it on Valentine’s Day last year.

“And then our ever-charming president called Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’ and I thought ‘there’s my theme,’” he said. “It just fell totally into my lap out of that mouth.”

On a recent Saturday, 13 women and four men followed Lear around the Met, stopping at a dozen pieces of art spanning centuries: from Greece to ancient Egypt to 18th century France and beyond.

He kept the tour light: a marble female figure from Cycladic Greece with a generous posterior was compared to an ancient Kim Kardashian. He pointed to the museum’s “Dangerous Beauty: Medusa in Classical Art” exhibit as an original femme fatale — or just another way to say nasty woman, he joked.

The portrait of Stein, he later remarked, zeroed in on her toughness, hunched over and seemingly no frills. The group wanted to know if she liked the finished product — Lear said Stein had in fact donated it to the Met.

And interest in the tours, he said, has increased with the popularity of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

“Our audience is always very enthusiastic,” he said. “People say things about politics a little bit on the tour, but we’re talking about women in ancient Egypt — it doesn’t come very close to the modern world.”

Astoria resident Anastasia Kasatkina, 26, had already visited the Met a handful of times, but decided that the Nasty Woman tour would make for an interesting — and entertaining — afternoon. Kasatkinawas, who was joined on the tour by her wife, said she grew up in Russia where she said women are oppressed.

“We wanted to [gain] more insight on how ... it was throughout the years, to understand whether it’s common or not, or what could be done to change the situation that’s currently going on in Russia,” she said, hoping to find a historical context for modern political landscapes.

Upper West Side resident Abbott Kahler, 45, writes women-centric nonfiction and was excited for a deeper understanding of historical women she didn’t necessarily know. She joined the tour with her husband.

“Women were written out of history systematically. They still are, to some degree,” Kahler said. “It’s nice when people try to rectify that and bring these lives to light.”

Anne Ludington, 63, who was visiting the city from upstate Fulton, said she was especially looking forward to learning about women she didn’t know who have contributed to civilization. She came on the tour with her daughter.

“I find it particularly poignant,” said Ludington. “We deserve respect and we’ve done some great things — things that the whole world has benefited from — we deserve our credit.”

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