The front steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art have become an iconic landmark in New York. They serve as the portal into the famed museum, a perch to sit and have your lunch in the sun, and even a platform for demonstrations. In a March 21st press release, though, museum director Max Hollein announced that the steps leading up to the Met’s Fifth Avenue location will serve one more purpose as the location for a commissioned series of contemporary artworks.
The museum’s Beaux-Arts façade and Great Hall were designed by Richard Morris Hunt, also a founding trustee of the museum. Since the museum opened in 1902, however, the niches at the sides of the entryway to the museum have remained empty. Artist Wangechi Mutu has received the inaugural commission and will create two new artworks for those niches. The works, which will be unveiled September 9th this year, will greet guests into the museum and be free for the public to enjoy as well.
‘Artists have long engaged with The Met’s collection, drawing connections between contemporary practices and 5,000 years of world culture,’ said Hollein in the museum’s press release. ‘These projects are a manifestation of The Met’s desire and ability to collaborate with artists and current artistic production in an unusual way. The Met itself, the building, and its public spaces will become temporary platforms for presenting new work, offering powerful opportunities to display contemporary art for our broad audience to experience.’
Sheena Wagstaff, chairman of modern and contemporary art at the Met added: ‘The Met has long been a home for generations of artists in New York and also from across the world […] We are honored to have Mutu, Monkman, and Kjartansson join that lineage, not only drawing inspiration from The Met’s rich collections, but also thinking what it means to cross the threshold of a great Beaux-Arts building in contemporary terms.’
The unveiling of the artworks will coincide with the premiere of artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s immersive video installation Death is Elsewhere (2017-2019). Beginning on May 30th, the installation will show in the Robert Lehman Wing atrium through September 2nd. Then, the Met will unveil a new commission from artist Kent Monkman for a monumental painting for the Met’s Great Hall. Monkman’s work will be presented on December 19th and remain through April of 2020. The Great Hall has often featured art relative to concurrent exhibitions. Egyptian statues and Hellenistic sculptures have graced the Great Hall as well as artworks by the likes of Andy Warhol and John Baldessari.