Frida Escobedo will overhaul the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary galleries

Winging It

Frida Escobedo will overhaul the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary galleries

Architect Frida Escobedo pictured in 2014 (Columbia GSAPP/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has revealed that architect Frida Escobedo has been selected to helm an exhaustive, more-than-a-decade-in-the-making reimagining of its galleries dedicated to modern and contemporary art. Mexico City-based Escobedo will be the first woman in history to design a wing at the storied New York City institution.

“The Met is one of the most relevant sites for culture on a global scale, and it is an honor to be selected for this historic architectural reimagining,” said 43-year-old Escobedo in a statement, noting that the blockbuster project “presents an opportunity to give new life to the Museum’s art from the 20th and 21st century; to celebrate the dynamics we can find within art of different times, geographies, and ideologies; and to uncover new spaces for self-reflection and connection with others.”

At an estimated cost of $500 million, the revamp will yield 80,000 square feet of new galleries and public space at the museum’s Oscar L. Tang and H.M. Anges Hsu-Tang Wing. Formerly known as the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, the Met’s 110,000-square-foot modern art wing debuted in 1987 at the southwestern corner of the sprawling Upper East Side museum complex with a design by the late Kevin Roche.

Last November, it was announced that the wing would be renamed (for a minimum of 50 years) after longtime Met trustee and benefactor Oscar Tang and his wife, the archeologist and art historian Agnes Hsu-Tang, bestowed the museum with a $125 million gift—the largest capital gift in the museum’s history—to serve as the lead donation for the long-planned renovation of the modern and contemporary galleries. The Tang’s historic gift finally set the project into motion, with today’s announcement of Escobedo’s role serving as a major milestone.

“The new wing will be a vibrant, exhilarating space that meets The Met’s current and future needs while promoting a lively representation and reevaluation of the art of the 20th and 21st century in the context of 5,000 years of art history,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, in the museum’s announcement. “Frida Escobedo is an outstanding architect of our time. In her practice, she wields architecture as a way to create powerful spatial and communal experiences, and she has shown dexterity and sensitivity in her elegant use of material while bringing sincere attention to today’s socioeconomic and ecological issues. Already through her partnership, Frida has demonstrated her vision to create enthralling galleries that will challenge the embedded hierarchies of our history and chart a more accessible trajectory for the new wing.”

exterior of the metropolitan museum of art in new york
The Metropolitan Museum of Art pictured in 2019 (Lucas Ferretti/Flickr/CC BY SA-2.0)

In addition to heading her eponymous architectural studio first established in Mexico City in 2006, Escobedo is an educator who was taught at a number of institutions including Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, the Architectural Association of London, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Rice University, and at Yale University, where she currently teaches. Named an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2019, among Escobedo’s many awards and accolades are the Architectural League of New York’s Young Architects Forum Award (2009), the BIAU Prize (2014), the Architectural Review Emerging Architecture Award (2016), and the Architectural League Emerging Voices Award (2017). In 2018, she was named as the youngest architect to win the annual Serpentine Pavilion commission at London’s Kensington Gardens.

Other key projects include the renovation of the iconic Hotel Boca Chica in Acapulco (2008), the El Eco Pavilion at Mexico City’s Museo Experimental El Eco (2010), the expansion of La Tallera Siqueiros in Cuernavaca (2012), and retail environments for Australian luxury skincare brand Aesop in Brooklyn, Miami, and Chicago. Current projects include the mixed-use Ray Harlem project alongside Handel Architects.

Although design particulars of the overhauled Tang Wing have yet to be revealed, the Met noted that the Escobedo-helmed reimagining will enable the museum “to approach 20th- and 21st-century art from a global, encyclopedic, playful, and surprising perspective. This bold new vision will result in a building that respects and connects with the Museum’s archipelago of architectural styles as well as its spatial organization and infrastructure,” the museum said. “Through flexible gallery spaces, the wing will emphasize the interconnectedness of space and time and suggest a non-chronological narrative.”

“The Museum has several key mandates that drive this project and that have guided our search for an architect,” elaborated Jhaelen Hernandez-Eli, the Met’s Head of Construction, in a statement. “Frida understands how to create an enduring space for art while reconciling the wing’s relationship with the existing building and park. Additionally, her work draws from multiple cultural narratives, values local resources, and addresses the urgent socioeconomic inequities and environmental crises that define our time.”

Per the museum, the renovated Tang Wing will feature works from the Department of Photographs and the Department of Drawings and Prints in addition to works from the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

As previously reported by AN, the Met first announced a gut renovation of its modern wing in 2014 but those David Chipperfield-led plans were shelved three years later as the museum was staring down a $10 million deficit. After Hollein was appointed as the museum’s new director in 2018 and the financial situation at the museum stabilized, the plans were revived. (The price tag attached to the now-scrapped $600 million Chipperfield overhaul has since grown to $800 million according to the New York Times.)

Not particularly easy to navigate, the former Wallace Wing has been considered as “problematic,” to quote the Times, since it first opened, and even Roche himself lamented the finished product.

“It really never got built properly,” the Irish-born Pritzker laureate, then 92, told the Times in 2014. “I was never very happy with what happened.”

As revealed by the Times in announcing Escobedo’s selection, Ensamble Studio, Lacaton & Vassal, SO – IL, and David Chipperfield Architects were all under consideration to take on the recently kickstarted project.

AN will report back when more details of the Met’s half-billion gallery redesign project continues to move ahead.