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The Metropolitan Museum of Art Reopens

By Peggy Roalf   Friday August 28, 2020

The Metropolitan Museum of Art reopens to the public on Saturday, with member previews that started yesterday. I began my preview yesterday morning with the 2020 Roof Garden Commission: Héctor Zamora, Lattice Detour (above). Zamora  (b. Mexico City, 1974) is known for works that engage public spaces and the built environment, and which generate friction between commonly perceived roles of public and private, exterior and interior, organic and geometric, real and imaginary.

Here Zamora takes on the wall, one of the defining symbols of our time, and one that divides and separates people, physically and metaphorically. This 11-foot high curved arc of perforated brick redefines the space of the Cantor Roof Garden, dictating how visitors may now use the space and how they perceive the panoramic views of Manhattan that are interrupted yet still visible. 

 

Zamora engaged local construction workers from Mexico and Latin America skilled in building with this type of terra cotta brick, which was shipped in from Mexico. The openwork structure references celosia walls—the openwork brick structures found in vernacular architecture of the Middle East, Africa, Iberia and Latin America, and creates a striking contrast with the glass and steel skyscrapers that rise along the edges of Central Park. Here, the wall becomes a vehicle for dialog rather than obstruction, suggesting the malleability of social space.

 

The signature exhibition of The Met’s 150th-anniversary year, Making The Met, 1870–2020, is an immersive journey through the museum’s history of acquiring the two million plus objects among its holdings. Organized around transformational moments in the evolution of the Museum's collection, buildings, and ambitions, the exhibition reveals the visionary figures and cultural forces that propelled The Met in new directions since its founding. 

 

Presented chronologically in museum time, it brings objects from across millennia together in galleries completely revamped for this special exhibition. Organized along ten episodes, including The Founding Decades; Art for All; Collecting through Excavation; Creating a National Narrative, the curators show how the museum has changed its course as it expanded its collections. The press release states, “At the same time, we recognize that we are living through further societal transformation in our anniversary year. In many of these cases, we reflect with pride; in others, we acknowledge our place within fraught histories. We have also considered the legacy of each episode, its staying power or evolution.”  

 

Making The Met features more than 250 works of art of nearly every type, from visitor favorites to fragile treasures that can only be occasionally displayed. Grouped in terms of their relevance to the museum’s history, in galleries painted in colors that reflect the decades in which they were collected, visitors get a sense of what it might be like to visit the homes in which these works lived with their owners before they found their way into the museum. Above, from the section, “Princely Aspirations,” which includes bequests from Gilded Age benefactors, J. P. Morgan and Benjamin Altman.

 

Throughout the galleries, conservation studies showcase the research that continues to reveal the cultural significance of previously obscure items, such as 8th-century BC ivory figure from Iraq. Rarely seen archival photographs, and historical notes; engaging digital features; and stories of behind-the-scenes work demonstrate the Museum's expanding community outreach and education programs. One of the notable features of the exhibition is the care given to wall labels; not only are they informative about the subject, these miniature texts often relate the work to objects nearby. Above: Director Max Hollein explains the conservation studies involved in accurately replacing the tutu of The Little Fourteen-year-old Dancer, by Edgar Degas (1834–1917)Info

 

In addition to the three exhibitions that will debut on August 29—Making The Met, 1870–2020The Roof Garden Commission: Héctor Zamora, Lattice Detourand Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle—exhibitions that opened shortly before the temporary closure include Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara (through October 26); In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection (through September 27); and Photography's Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection (through November 30).

The Cloisters reopens September 12. Timed tickets must be purchased online; visitor guidelines here All photos © Peggy Roalf; see my Instagram video of Max Hollein on the reopening.

The Met Primer distills the main points of Making The Met into an interactive online feature


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