Having recently expanded their American Art Galleries covering works from 1830 through 1920, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is about to embark on more contemporary endeavours. A new department dedicated to 20th and 21st century art is in the works.
Overseeing this new venture is Sheena Wagstaff, former chief curator at London’s Tate Modern who is credited for organising major exhibitions featuring artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Barnett Newman, Jeff Wall and Eva Hesse.
The Met will acquire the Marcel Breuer building, current home to the Whitney Museum of American Art (Madison Avenue and 75th St.) in 2015 when the Whitney relocates to Manhattan’s trendy meatpacking district.
Similar to MoMA’s strategy earlier this decade, The Met plans to use the space as an outpost for Modern and contemporary art while it renovates the gallery space at its primary location.
The Met is aiming to become a worthy competitor to museums such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) and London’s Tate Modern. But what will this mean for smaller contemporary art venues in the neighbourhood, such as the New Museum? Surely, they cannot compete with The Met when it comes to funding.
The critics are divided when it comes to this expansion and as usual, I am siding with the more traditional arguments, such as those which assert that it is impossible to identify the greatest work of the present and display it alongside the carefully contextualised organisation of the Met’s current collection.
I’m also on board with Holland Cotter, art critic for The New York Times, who argues that The Met does not need to play the contemporary art game. There are plenty of other venues for viewing new art (and The Met is not exactly starving for admissions).
But the director of the Museum is unmoved by the negative reactions to his plan. He is reorganising and attempting to reinvent the museum in his own way. He feels it is important to show Modern and contemporary art alongside the museum’s already existing collections.
He chose Wagstaff for her academic and professional achievements. She seems to have the whole package – strong educational background, experience with American art institutions (having studied at the Whitney as a post-graduate) and experience with high profile public relations in negotiating blockbuster exhibitions at London’s Tate Modern.
Wagstaff is not revealing her ideas regarding the changes afoot. I wonder why, a museum, by definition is a public space, so doesn’t the public deserve to know what is going on within its community?
In an interview with the New York Times, Wagstaff said, “in the vanguard of reinventing a new understanding of what art means, having a dialogue with the past and the present, the most vital conversation we can have today.” What on earth does that even mean?
Information regarding the new galleries is not all she is withholding. In the picture of Wagstaff featured in the New York Times announcement she appears as if she is being sent to prison or just lost a puppy. Let’s hope she is a bit happier on the inside.
But I digress, to get back to the point, is The Met trying to be a one-stop shop like the Wallmarts, Targets and K-Marts of America? Won’t this cheapen the prestigious reputation of their existing operation? Or does Campbell simply want to transform the Museum into a corporation-style environment that is perhaps more in tune to his nearly $1 million dollar per year salary?
And last but not least, as the museum is a public space, why doesn’t the public factor in when it comes to significant changes like this?
Sorry Campbell but You”ve Been ArtSmacked!
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