The Metropolitan Museum of Art Will Celebrate Its 150th Birthday With a Party for Every Living Artist in Its Collection (and Much More)

On April 13, 1870, the New York legislature passed an act to establish the museum.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Met.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is hitting a major milestone: the beloved, venerable institution is turning 150 years old on April 13.

It was on that date in 1870 that the Legislature of the State of New York passed an act to establish the institution.

“Unlike our friends at the Louvre [in Paris] and the Prado [in Madrid] and many other great encyclopedic museums around the world, which began with a royal collection, the Met began with nothing—not a piece of art, not a building,” Ken Weine, the museum’s chief communications officer, tells Artnet News.

That makes the current size and scope of the Met—the largest in the world by area, at 2.2 million square feet, with some 1.5 million collection objects covering 5,000 years of history—all the more remarkable. When the very first museum trustees signed the charter so many years ago, they had no way of knowing what they were setting in motion.

Installation view of of the Croome Court Tapestry Room in the Met’s new British Galleries. Photo by Joseph Coscia, February 2020. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“In the early days of the Met, there were intense conversations about if the museum should be a destination for the masses or the elites,” Weine says. “Wonderfully, even in the last 12 years, there have been great changes in museum visitorship. We’ve grown from 4 million to 7 million visitors and have an audience that continues to grow younger and more diverse. That is a reflection of the energy and changing landscape of New York City, which is a global destination.”

In recognition of the watershed moment that started it all, the Met is pulling out all the stops, with a year’s worth of celebrations that began this week with the long-awaited reopening of the museum’s British galleries.

Things kick into high gear on April 13, starting off with a ceremonial cake-cutting with city and state officials. The flavor of the cake has yet to be determined, but it’s being baked and decorated by Margaret Choo, a project manager in membership research at the Met who also has a side hustle selling high-end baked goods.

“Like all great New Yorkers, she has many talents,” Weine says. “She’s renowned internally and accepted our invitation to make a very, very big cake.”

Throughout the anniversary day, there will be musical performances in the Great Hall, and as night falls, the Empire State Building will be illuminated in red in the Met’s honor. Bloomingdale’s will also mark the occasion with specially designed window displays and by lighting its facade red in the evening.

There will also be a special exhibition at the museum, “Making the Met: 1870–2020” (March 30–August 2, 2020), featuring 250 works that showcase transformative moments in the museum’s history.

Max Hollein (age eight) and his sister, Lilli, during their first visit to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Max Hollein (age eight) and his sister, Lilli, during their first visit to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Displays of gifts and promised gifts given on the occasion of the anniversary will also be prominently featured, with objects scattered throughout the galleries as well as in dedicated exhibitions, such as one on the fashion collection of Sandy Schreier. Another show will highlight Hudson River School paintings and other American artworks from the collection of Barrie and Deedee Wigmore. In addition, a new series of installations will highlight cross-cultural connections between works made in different regions of the world.

Among the many pieces in the museum’s collection are works from approximately 1,000 living artists—all of whom are being invited to an “Artists Take the Met” party this spring.

“Artists of the time were among the founders of the Met, so it is appropriate that contemporary artists celebrate,” Weine says, noting that he expects 500 or so turn up for the event. (Some of them are even being enlisted to DJ by Met director Max Hollein.)

Other events for the 150th include a three-day celebration (June 4–6) featuring a fundraising gala followed by a dance party, and, later in the weekend, a scholarly symposium, “Shifting Perspectives on Art and Museums.” The museum is also inviting the public to share their memories in “Met Stories“—an initiative kicked off by Hollein, whose was just eight years old the first time he set foot in the New York City museum.

“This anniversary is an exciting and important opportunity for us to say thank you to New Yorkers, to our supporters, and to all of our millions of visitors who helped us build this institution,” Weine says. “The promise of the Met is that we can build in New York a place for all people to gather to celebrate human creativity. It is a wonderfully idealistic notion, and we are elated both to celebrate and to plan for the decades ahead.”

To learn more about the museum’s many activities, see its web page about the anniversary and the promotional video below.

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