Indisputably one of the world’s most important institutions, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced it will expand its holdings with the new Modern and Contemporary Art Department, headed by former chief curator at the Tate Modern, Sheena Wagstaff.
In a statement released by the museum, the museum’s director, Thomas P. Campbell, also outlined plans to collapse the department of 19th Century Painting with the department of European Painting, clearing the way for this new department to play more of a role in the museum’s programming.
Founded as America’s first great national museum in 1880, the Met has experienced a recent flourishing. In June of 2011, the museum celebrated its highest attendance in over 40 years at 5.68 million visitors for the fiscal year. This figure received an enormous boost with the decidedly contemporary Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition, which brought in a record of 661,509 visitors, placing it on a list beside Tutankhamun and the Mona Lisa as one of the top ten most popular exhibitions in the museum’s 140 year history. More than 100,000 copies of the catalogue have been purchased so far, making it one of the museum’s most successful publications ever.
The Met has continued to attract praise with its newly opened Galleries of Islamic Art (now more clunkily renamed the Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia in a politically contentious maneuver that has nevertheless elicited much praise, including a widely-circulated ode from celebrity critic Jerry Saltz.
Wagstaff is a particularly telling choice to head the new department in so much as she is often credited with the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall projects, which have featured artists from Olafur Eliasson to Ai Wei Wei to, most recently, Tacita Dean. It should be no surprise if she attempts to reinvigorate the Met with a similar commissioned-based venture. We are excited to watch these changes!