Gut Renovation for the Met’s Modern and Contemporary Wing

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced plans for a major overhaul of its Modern and contemporary wing, completed in 1987 at cost of $26 million, reports the New York Times.

The museum is re-examining its layout for the first time in 40 years, and affirming its commitment to addressing its shortcomings in Modern and contemporary art. The museum is likely responding to big changes at the city’s major contemporary art museums, with the Museum of Modern Art planning a controversial expansion, and the Whitney Museum of American Art preparing to abandon the Upper East Side for hip new digs at the base of the High Line.

In an interview with the Times, Met director Thomas P. Campbell called the planned revamp “the Modern wing’s turn to get it right.” The Lila Acheson Wallace Wing that currently house’s the museum’s contemporary collection is seen as less than ideal as it does not allow for a chronological presentation of the work.

According to Kevin Roche, the architect responsible for the wing, “It really never got built properly.” As he told the Times, “I was never very happy with what happened.”

“That wing has to be completely redesigned,” added former longtime Met director Philippe de Montebello. “I suspect that it would need to be torn down and rebuilt.”

The museum has added incentive to improve its Modern and contemporary art galleries thanks to a recently received substantial gift of Cubist art from Leonard Lauder. Campbell considers the collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures “a huge missing link between our very strong collections of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and our moderately strong holdings of early-20th-century.”

The Met turns 150 in 2020, and Campbell hopes, ambitiously, to unveil the new wing in time for that milestone anniversary. Initial plans for the redesign also involved expanding the institution’s roof garden, and perhaps creating a new entrance to the museum from the Central Park side. “In a sense,” admits Campbell, the current layout “turns the museum’s back on the park.”

Any major changes will have to gain the approval of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The American Wing and Sackler Wing were both added to the Met after the last substantial expansion, which was drafted in 1970. The Islamic galleries and the recently reopened Costume Institute were both renovated under that plan. Currently, the museum’s 5th Avenue plaza is being restored.

During construction, the Met’s Modern and contemporary collection will be on view at the Whitney’s old Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue, which the Met will lease for the next eight years following the Whitney’s spring 2015 move.


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