The Metropolitan Museum of Art (colloquially The Met) is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan’s Museum Mile, is one of the world’s largest art galleries. There is also a much smaller second location at “The Cloisters” in Upper Manhattan that features medieval art.
Represented in the permanent collection are works of art from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters, and an extensive collection of American and modern art. The Met also maintains extensive holdings of African, Asian, Oceanic, Byzantine, and Islamic art. The museum is also home to encyclopedic collections of musical instruments, costumes and accessories, and antique weapons and armor from around the world. Several notable interiors, ranging from 1st-century Rome through modern American design, are permanently installed in the Met’s galleries.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by a group of American citizens. The founders included businessmen and financiers, as well as leading artists and thinkers of the day, who wanted to open a museum to bring art and art education to the American people. It opened on February 20, 1872, and was originally located at 681 Fifth Avenue. As of 2007, the Met measures almost 1⁄4-mile (400 m) long and occupies more than 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2).
The New York State Legislature granted the Metropolitan Museum of Art an Act of Incorporation on April 13, 1870 “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said City a Museum and Library of Art, of encouraging and developing the Study of the Fine Arts, and the application of Art to manufacture and natural life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and to that end of furnishing popular instruction and recreations”. The museum first opened on February 20, 1872, housed in a building located at 681 Fifth Avenue in New York City. John Taylor Johnston, a railroad executive whose personal art collection seeded the museum, served as its first President, and the publisher George Palmer Putnam came on board as its founding Superintendent. The artist Eastman Johnson acted as Co-Founder of the museum. The former Civil War officer, Luigi Palma di Cesnola, was named as its first director. He served from 1879 to 1904. Under their guidance, the Met’s holdings, initially consisting of a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 mostly European paintings, quickly outgrew the available space. In 1873, occasioned by the Met’s purchase of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot antiquities, the museum decamped from Fifth Avenue and took up residence at the Douglas Mansion at 128 West 14th Street. However, these new accommodations proved temporary, as the growing collection required more space than the mansion could provide.
After negotiations with the City of New York in 1871, the Met was granted the land between the East Park Drive, Fifth Avenue, and the 79th and 85th Street Transverse Roads in Central Park. A red-brick and stone “mausoleum” was designed by American architect Calvert Vaux and his collaborator Jacob Wrey Mould. Vaux’s ambitious building was not well-received; the building’s High Victorian Gothic style being already dated prior to completion, and the president of the Met termed the project “a mistake.” Within 20 years, a new architectural plan engulfing the Vaux building was already being executed. Since that time, many additions have been made including the distinctive Beaux-Arts Fifth Avenue facade, Great Hall, and Grand Stairway. These were designed by architect and Met trustee Richard Morris Hunt, but completed by his son, Richard Howland Hunt in 1902 after his father’s death. The wings that completed the Fifth Avenue facade in the 1910s were designed by the firm of McKim, Mead, and White. The modernistic sides and rear of the museum were the work of Roche, Dinkeloo, and Associates in the 1970s and 1980s. As of 2010, the Met measures almost 1⁄4-mile (400 m) long and with more than 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2) of floor space, more than 20 times the size of the original 1880 building. The museum building is an accretion of over twenty structures, most of which are not visible from the exterior. The City of New York owns the museum building and contributes utilities, heat, and some of the cost of guardianship.
The collections are owned by a private corporation of Fellows and Benefactors which totals about 950 persons. The museum is governed by a Board of Trustees consisting of 41 elected members, several officials of the City of New York, and persons honored as Trustees by the museum. The 2009-10 operating budget is $221 million. The museum’s endowment is $2–3 billion and provides much of the income for operations while admissions account for only 15%.
During the 1970s, under the directorship of Thomas Hoving, the Met revised its deaccessioning policy. Under the new policy, the Met set its sights on acquiring “world-class” pieces, regularly funding the purchases by selling mid- to high-value items from its collection. Though the Met had always sold duplicate or minor items from its collection to fund the acquisition of new pieces, the Met’s new policy was significantly more aggressive and wide-ranging than before, and allowed the deaccessioning of items with higher values which would normally have precluded their sale. The new policy provoked a great deal of criticism (in particular, from the New York Times) but had its intended effect. Many of the items then purchased with funds generated by the more liberal deaccessioning policy are now considered the “stars” of the Met’s collection, including Velázquez’s Juan de Pareja and the Euphronios krater depicting the death of Sarpedon (which has since been repatriated to the Republic of Italy). In the years since the Met began its new deaccessioning policy, other museums have begun to emulate it with aggressive deaccessioning programs of their own. The Met has continued the policy in recent years, selling such valuable pieces as Edward Steichen’s 1904 photograph The Pond-Moonlight (of which another copy was already in the Met’s collection) for a record price of $2.9 million.
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