A Modest Proposal for The Met: Make the Façade a Canvas for Public Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Fifth Avenue façade. Photo by Jason Edward Kaufman (c) 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Fifth Avenue façade. The vacant plinths are at the base of the arches flanking the central entrance. Photo by Jason Edward Kaufman (c) 2013
From Rockefeller Center to Madison Square Park and the Park Avenue median, public art has become increasingly prominent around New York. Among the memorable projects in recent years were Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates winding through Central Park, Olafur Eliasson’s New York City Waterfalls edging the lower harbor, and Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus, a living room constructed around the column-top statue of the explorer at Columbus Circle, a hot ticket earlier this year.

Should The Met commission temporary artworks for vacant plinths on its Fifth Avenue facade?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Fifth Avenue façade. The vacant plinths are at the base of the arches flanking the central entrance. Photo by Jason Edward Kaufman (c) 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Fifth Avenue façade. The vacant plinths are at the base of the arches flanking the central entrance. Photo by Jason Edward Kaufman (c) 2013

From Rockefeller Center to Madison Square Park and the Park Avenue median, public art has become increasingly prominent around New York. Among the memorable projects in recent years were Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates winding through Central Park, Olafur Eliasson’s New York City Waterfalls edging the lower harbor, and Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus, a living room constructed around the column-top statue of the explorer at Columbus Circle, a hot ticket earlier this year.

Thanks to nonprofits including the Public Art Fund and Creative Time, these and other temporary installations provide aesthetic enjoyment and edification to residents and sightseers, and do so free of charge. Their presence reflects the ethos of a sophisticated democratic city that prides itself as the world leader in cultural vibrancy and innovation.

But there is ample room for growth, and at least two spaces ideal for the public-art purpose are currently overlooked. The Metropolitan Museum of Art should launch a series of contemporary art commissions to occupy the empty plinths on the museum’s recently restored Fifth Avenue façade. Which plinths, you ask? The two recesses flanking the main entrance, level with the top of the great stairs, directly below the north and south arches of the portico.

Click here for the proposal in The New York Observer.

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One Response

  1. The four double columns support pediments (if I have the terminology correct) upon each of which is a pile of uncut stone. That stone was placed there when the building was built, and was intended to be carved into the kind of grandiose figures common to the era.

    That should be a site for new art.

    Jim

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Jason Edward Kaufman is an art historian and critic with expertise in museums and the international art world.

A complete list of past articles is available here.

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  • Gary Tinterow and Modern Art at the Metropolitan

    August 26, 2010, 1:16 am

    Gary Tinterow’s Contemporary Art Agenda for the Metropolitan Museum

    In a wide-ranging interview, the chief curator of modern and contemporary art discusses collection sharing, acquisitions strategy, renovation of the Wallace Wing, negotiations to lease the Whitney’s Breuer building, and more.

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