Met The Past

The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates 150th anniversary with intercultural curation

Established in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art decided to both celebrate and reflect upon its storied past. (Tomas Eidsvold)

Like virtually every other museum in America, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York temporarily closed down last month in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The decision, however, was unique for the world-famous museum, which had planned to celebrate its 150th anniversary with a year-long roster of events and exhibitions reflecting on the long and winding history of its impact on the art world.

The centerpiece planned for the celebration is Making The Met, 1870-2020a large-scale exhibition juxtaposing over 250 artworks that reflects the museum’s encyclopedic archives, “from visitor favorites to fragile treasures that can only be placed on view from time to time.” Highlighting the growth of the museum itself into an institution with over two million works across 17 curatorial departments, Making The Met is designed to play the museum’s greatest hits.

But anniversaries can also be a time for reflection, and for the Met, turning 150 meant taking a cold, hard look at its often Eurocentric approach toward its curation of global art. Crossroads, an ongoing exhibition that opened on March 6, examines the concept of cultural interconnectedness in four distinctly curated installations and acknowledges that several of the museum’s previous exhibitions have championed the historical theory that the world’s various cultures had developed independently of each other. “In a time of nationalism, it’s important now more than ever to show the interconnectedness of cultures, and a certain joint cultural heritage,” said Met director Max Hollein, according to The Art Newspaper.

A 17th-century Japanese tapestry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Arrival of the Europeans (first quarter 17th century), on display in the Crossroads exhibition, is a pair of folding screens created in Japan depicting a European landing on the country’s shores. (Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015)

Empires and Emporiafor instance, makes evident the cultural intersections between Asians, Europeans, and Americans during the sixteenth century—an era for which Renaissance studies has traditionally received an outsized amount of historical attention—through artwork that bears the markings of multiple cultures at once. “Fueled by Spanish-American silver and the demand for Asian luxury goods such as silk and porcelain,” the installation’s description reads, “the transoceanic circulation of people, things, and ideas left its visible trace in works of art that bear vivid witness to the complex dynamic of human encounter and exchange.” Reflecting on Crossroads in particular, Hollein hoped that the lessons learned this year will influence curatorial decisions for the museum as a whole going forward, arguing that while the concept of an encyclopedic museum is not outdated, revising the commonly-tread narratives of cultural development could open up endless new perspectives.

Though the space is not physically open to the public, many of The Met’s offerings are available in high resolution on their website, including The Met 360° Project, which allows viewers to virtually explore the iconic spaces of its main building, as well as those of The Met Breuer and The Met Cloisters.

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