Out of the Heart of Darkness

The Met taps wHY for a $70 million renovation of the Rockefeller Wing

Architecture Art East News
Once complete, the Rockefeller Wing renovation will flood the gallery spaces in natural light. (Courtesy wHY Architecture)
Once complete, the Rockefeller Wing renovation will flood the gallery spaces in natural light. (Courtesy wHY Architecture)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has revealed a $70 million revamp of its Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, which hosts fine art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast, founder of New York-based wHY Architecture, has been selected to update the wing’s 40,000 square feet of galleries as part of a master plan to modernize the museum ahead of its 150th birthday in 2020.

The renovation, slated to begin in 2020 and finish in 2023, will reorganize and celebrate pieces that, when the Rockefeller Wing opened in 1982, were described as being from “the primitive world.” Once wHY completes the overhaul, each gallery in the wing will be flushed with natural light and use the vernacular architecture of the region represented within.

White "ribs" on the ceiling will help muffle sound as well as direct the "flow" of each gallery.

White “ribs” on the ceiling will help muffle sound as well as direct the “flow” of each gallery. (Courtesy wHY Architecture)

From the renderings (the project has only just entered the schematic design phase and may still change), wHY has chosen to cover the ceiling of each gallery in white “ribs.” The walls, partitions, and plinths in each space will share the same stone-like color, creating an unobtrusive yet naturalistic space for viewing the art.

As the Met director Max Hollein laid out at a press conference this morning, the goal of renovating the Rockefeller Wing was to better integrate the intertwined histories of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas with the rest of the Met’s collection. The Rockefeller Wing presents art from over half of the globe in a single place, and the history of the artifacts therein is deeply connected with that of Greece, Rome, and every other place typically explored in the “mainstream” art history canon.

With the new galleries, said Hollein, this art was coming out of the “heart of darkness,” both literally and figuratively.

Embarking on an ambitious plan to reorganize the museum’s galleries would have seemed absurd a year ago, when the Met was struggling to hit its financial goals and growth was stagnant.

Indigenous art will be put front and center in the new galleries, and organized in a much cleaner manner.

Indigenous art will be put front and center in the new galleries, and organized in a much cleaner manner. (Courtesy wHY Architecture)

According to the Met’s president and chief executive Daniel H. Weiss, revenue has been up 41 percent after the museum instituted a mandatory admissions policy for non-New Yorkers in March. The Rockefeller announcement also coincides with Hollein’s 100th day on the job and the Met is hoping that the stabilization of its income and leadership will allow the institution to focus on reactivating its expansion plans and acquiring new contemporary art.

Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors is handling a $22 million renovation of the museum’s British decorative arts and sculpture galleries, expected to open in 2020. A $150 million skylight replacement in the European Paintings galleries has closed off half the wing and is expected to wrap up in 2022, but will bathe works by the Dutch masters in the unparalleled light once complete.

Perhaps most excitingly, David Chipperfield’s $600 million redevelopment of the Southwest Wing may be back on the table, as the museum is currently scoping out its fundraising options.

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