Exhibition To Watch in 2020: Making The Met, 1870–2020

In 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding with a dynamic range of exhibitions, programs, and public events. Highlights of the year will include the exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020, on view March 30–August 2; the opening of the newly renovated and reimagined galleries devoted to British decorative arts and design in March; the display of new gifts throughout the Museum; a three-day-long celebration in June; and a story-collecting initiative. (More information is available at www.metmuseum.org/150.)

The centerpiece of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 150th anniversary celebration will be the exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020. On view March 30–August 2, 2020 in the Second Floor Tisch Galleries, the presentation is a museum-wide collaboration that will lead visitors on an immersive, thought-provoking journey through The Met’s history. Organized around transformational moments in the evolution of the Museum’s collection, buildings, and ambitions, the exhibition will reveal the visionary figures and cultural forces that propelled The Met in new directions, from its founding in 1870 to the present day.

Making The Met, 1870–2020 is made possible by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. Lead corporate sponsorship is provided by Bank of America.

The exhibition will feature more than 250 works of art of nearly every type from The Met collection, including visitor favorites and fragile treasures that can only be displayed from time to time. The selection will span millennia—from an imposing seated statue of the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut (ca. 1479–1458 B.C.) to Jean Pucelle’s Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (ca. 1324–28) to El Anatsui’s monumental Dusasa II (2007)—and media—from Michelangelo’s sheet of Studies for the Libyan Sibyl to Degas’s bronze Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer to Edward Steichen’s photographs of The Flatiron. Its global reach will extend from Asia, with exceptional works such as Mi Fu’s Night-Shining White, to Africa, with the Fang Seated Female Figure from a Reliquary Ensemble, and the Americas, with the Crown of the Andes.

Making The Met, 1870–2020 will explore a range of intriguing topics, such as the educational and aspirational ideals of The Met’s founders; the discoveries and dilemmas of excavation; the competing forces of progressivism and nationalism that led to the founding of the American Wing; the role of the Museum during wartime; and the evolution at The Met’s centennial toward a truly global approach to collecting. Rarely seen archival photographs, innovative digital features, and stories of both behind-the-scenes work and the Museum’s community outreach will enhance this unique experience.

Young 19th- and 21st-century viewers gaze at Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, by Emanuel Leutze. Left: Archival photo from The Met archives. Right: Photo by Roderick Aichinger. Composite image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

The exhibition will be organized in ten chronological sections around a central axis, called The Street, that will situate visitors in time and offer glimpses into the inner workings of The Met and, exceptionally, out into Central Park.

The first section, The Founding Decades, will transport visitors back to the Museum’s early years. The Met was founded without art, a building, or professional staff—it had only the vision of a group of businessmen, civic leaders, and artists determined to elevate the cultural landscape of the city of New York. This gallery will reveal the initial priorities for the collection, including antiquities excavated from Cyprus by The Met’s first director, General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, and European old master paintings from the founding purchase of 1871. It will also call attention to the contributions of artist trustees, such as Frederic Edwin Church, and the surprising diversity of early acquisitions, from Toltec reliefs to Japanese armor.

In the early 20th century, The Met sought to reach audiences beyond the traditional elite museumgoers and created study rooms to inspire a new generation of designers, craftspeople, and students. In keeping with an increasingly encyclopedic vision for the collection, ephemeral and utilitarian objects were acquired in addition to masterpieces. The exhibition’s second gallery, Art for All, will spotlight three collections—musical instruments, textiles, and prints and drawings—and the visionary curators, Frances Morris and William Ivins, who oversaw them.

In the same era, under the guiding influence of J. Pierpont Morgan, president of the Board of Trustees, The Met began to aspire to the model of the great collections formed by European royalty and aristocracy. Princely Aspirations will feature objects prized for their rarity and beauty that were given to the Museum by tycoons of the Gilded Age, such as Benjamin Altman and Collis Huntington. Highlights include Johannes Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Lute, Antonio Rossellino’s Madonna and Child with Angels, 18th-century decorative arts that once adorned French palaces, and a Kunstkammer of precious objects. This section will look ahead to more recent benefactors, such as Robert Lehman and Charles and Jayne Wrightsman, who carried forward this spirit of collecting.

Continue reading