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McQueen a big draw at the Met

It looked like the food lines in my hometown of Leningrad.

That's how long the line is to get into the hit show "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The waiting time to see the late designer's outlandish creations is displayed on a stand by the ticket counters. It was 30 minutes when I visited on a rainy Wednesday and can be more than twice that.

From the May 4 opening through Sunday, 354,684 people have seen the show, surpassing the attendance of the 2005 Van Gogh drawing exhibition in its first seven weeks.

"It's certainly going to be among the most popular shows ever," said Harold Holzer, the museum's senior vice president for external affairs. "In terms of running at maximum capacity, it's right up there with all the biggest hits at the Met."

Installed by the museum's Costume Institute, the exhibition features about 100 ensembles and 70 accessories created by McQueen, who committed suicide at 40 last year. Materials include horse hair, wood, ostrich feathers, antlers and crocodile heads. Other distractions: video installations and a dreamy hologram of Kate Moss amid rippling ribbons of silk.

You won't see any of that without joining a line that snakes past masterpieces by Rodin and Bouguereau, spills around a corner at an elevator bank and sometimes stretches to the Great Hall balcony.

"It looks like it could be two hours," said Zina Freundlich of Highland Park, N.J., who decided to give it a try when the line attendant assured her it would be only 30 minutes.

Every half an hour, about 400 people trickle into the darkened rooms displaying neo-Victorian gowns and tartan frocks. About 6,500 people see the show on weekdays and 8,000 on weekends when the museum is open until 9 p.m.

Someone might step on your foot as you watch the video of two robots spray-painting model Shalom Harlow's pristine white dress (the resulting piece is displayed in a niche underneath the television screen).

The Met extended the show by one week and is offering extra viewings. Those willing to pay $50 for a ticket can attend Mondays when the museum is closed to the public. More than 1,000 people have paid for "Met Mondays with McQueen" since it began June 6.

During the last week of the exhibition, which closes Aug. 7, the museum is considering staying open outside of its regular business hours to accommodate demand, Holzer said.

"Savage Beauty" has beaten the attendance figures of Vermeer's masterpiece "The Milkmaid," which attracted 329,446 visitors during an almost four-month run. Jeff Koons' "balloon" sculptures on the roof brought in 657,801 people during its six-month run.

Comparing exhibitions is tricky because of their different duration, Holzer said: "It's only about how many people can get through the drawing show or a fashion show in an hour."

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