The Met at 150

At The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1945, director Max Hollein said, Met officials gave a prized Roman sarcophagus pride of place with a sign for donations. 

While curators of the Greek and Roman galleries won’t be letting him do that for The Met’s 150th anniversary next year, Hollein joked, there will be plenty of special exhibits, events, installations and acquisitions to mark the occasion.

Hollein and his team announced the year of celebration at a press breakfast last month set against the dramatic backdrop of The Temple of Dendur (Roman Egypt, completed by 10 B.C.), which he called “the most glamorous breakfast place New York has to offer.” While the official celebration is April 13, you’ll want to reserve June 4 through 6 as well. That’s when The Met will hold a dance party, a symposium and an outdoor art event respectively, with the last drawing on neighboring Central Park.

But the 150th anniversary will take place over the course of 2020, engaging the 17 curatorial departments, each of which is like a museum unto itself. They will all be part of the centerpiece exhibit, “Making The Met, 1870-2020” (March 30-Aug. 2). A show in 10 episodes and 250 artworks, it will take viewers from the
museum’s pre-Fifth Avenue beginnings through its “complicated history with Modernism” — as deputy director for collections and administration, and show curator, Andrea Bayer put it — in the early 20th century to the Monuments Men and Women who saved Nazi-looted art in World War II, the creation of the current footprint in the 1960s and on to today.

Said Bayer: “The history of The Met is not just about the museum’s history, but about our place in the history of New York and our country.”

It’s no secret that The Met had its challenges — financial and internal — under the leadership of Thomas P. Campbell (2009-17), who in effect traded jobs with Hollein and is CEO and director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Met is now in “an extraordinarily strong place,” President and CEO Daniel H. Weiss said, with a balanced budget projected for 2020, planned renovations and expansions, a collections initiative and cross-cultural installations.

Among the highlights are:

The New Galleries for British Decorative Arts and Design (opening March 2), reinterpreted to explore the role that slavery played as the backbone of empire; “Crossroads” (launching March 4), three new cross-cultural interpretations of the permanent collection on the subjects of “Power and Piety,” in the Medieval Sculpture Hall; “Empires and Emporia,” in the Asian Art Galleries Astor Forecourt; and “Mythical Beasts,” at the intersection of Greek and Roman Art, Ancient Near Eastern Art and Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia; four exhibits of large gifts of fashion, American art, photography and works on paper from individual donors;  seven exhibits on the Sahara, painter Gerhard Richter, the Tudor courts, Indian Buddhist art, Cubism, Jacob Lawrence and Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co.; and new acquisitions ranging from a Tibetan war mask to Ludovico Carracci’s “The Denial of Saint Peter” (circa 1616) to Pablo Picasso’s “Seated Female Nude (Femme nue assise),” the last from Leonard A. Lauder.

There’s something for each of The Met’s more than 7 million annual visitors. “But what I’m more interested in is the quality of the experience people have while they’re here,” Weiss said. “The world around us is riven in many ways.” While allowing for civic discourse on these divisions, he said, The Met remains “a safe, reflective place, one of the few that welcomes everybody.”

For more, visit metmuseum.org.

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