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Michelangelo at The Met: The Guides’ Tale

For the more than 30 Morgan Stanley employees who trained and served as company art guides, a historic exhibition helped them connect their careers in finance with a love of art.

The first thing you notice is the lighting—save for the soft spotlights on the gilt-framed artworks, the galleries seemed steeped in another time, when art was meant to be appreciated by candlelight.

“The galleries had this glow about them,” says Sarah McDaniel, one of more than 30 Morgan Stanley employees who trained as company art guides for firm events celebrating the opening of Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and DesignerThe Metropolitan Museum of Art's blockbuster show of the season, sponsored by Morgan Stanley. “There was an aura: solemn, but enlightening—and spiritual in a way,” McDaniel recalls.

They say that the more time you spend with a piece of art, the more it reveals itself to you.

The second effect: Silent, empty galleries on that first night before any guests had arrived. “We had Michelangelo all to ourselves,” says Curt Roberts, an Associate with Morgan Stanley’s Technology Division who is also an illustrator.

“I’ve spent hours sketching hands by Michelangelo. Any illustrator will tell you that hands are really hard to do, and Michelangelo drew perhaps the most famous hands of all,” Roberts says, referring to the centerpiece of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican, depicting the moment of first contact between man and god. Among the 133 drawings in the exhibition is an ink study of that very hand of God, drawn two ways—Michelangelo’s initial study for his Sistine fresco. “That was very special to see,” Roberts says.

Close Scrutiny

The employee guides, many of whom have a background in, or love for, the arts, relished the opportunity to connect their creative affinities with their professional lives. “I remember learning pastels in a high school art class and trying to draw the Libyan Sibyl from a book,” says Marty Kang, a Vice President in Legal. “It was a total disaster!”

As a guide, Kang ended up assigned to that exact drawing by Michelangelo in the exhibition, tracing anew this time its history and place in the development of Michelangelo’s vision. “They say that the more time you spend with a piece of art, the more it reveals itself to you,” Kang muses. “It’s true—I feel like I got to know the work personally, and through that, I understood some part of Michelangelo."

Kang also had the opportunity to share her experience with other Morgan Stanley employees, clients and guests visiting the exhibition. “Usually, when I meet senior executives or clients, we’re in a conference room going over a contract,” Kang laughs. “I never thought that I’d be discussing with them the musculature of Michelangelo’s subjects or how he often draws them in these super-awkward contorted poses.”

Only Connect

For McDaniel, a Managing Director and head of the Wealth Strategies Group within the Advanced Resources Center in Wealth Management, serving as an art guide at the exhibition connected all of her worlds, past and present, in one of her favorite places in the world. “I’ve been coming to The Met forever. It’s such a special place,” she says. “Getting to meet and know all of the other employees in the program and their eclectic backgrounds in art and business—just the talent we can bring to bear for something like this—has been amazing,” she says.

Her assigned work, “The Archer,” was one of the rare sculptures to grace the galleries, and a centerpiece of the first hall of the exhibition. “It was invigorating to see colleagues and clients—meeting others for the first time—gathered around this amazing sculpture. You had people talking about it from a historical perspective, from a connoisseurship perspective and, of course, from the artistic side. Everyone brings something special to it.”

McDaniel, who once worked for Christie’s and now advises clients with a passion for the arts, also considered it from a cultural angle. “I think for Morgan Stanley and The Met, this is the kind of exhibition that embodies larger values. Michelangelo isn’t just art. Displaying his work is a cultural responsibility,” she says. “It’s been amazing to be even a very small part of that.”