Met Museum appoints Mexico City architect to lead major new project

Mexican architect Frida Escobedowho at 38 was the youngest architect to design the Serpentine Pavilion in 2018, has been selected to design the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new $500 million modern and contemporary art wing, the museum announced on Sunday.

“This is a very large order,” museum director Max Hollein said in a phone interview. “This collection will continue to grow more significantly than any other area.”

“She is a strong voice in architectural discourse,” he added of Escobedo. “She produces very contemporary buildings that are rooted in a modern canon.”

Escobedo, 42, is a surprising choice for such an important assignment, given that she is relatively young, has mainly designed temporary structures and is not a household name. But she said she felt fearless and excited about the task.

“I like a challenge,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Mexico City. “One of the dream commissions for any architect is to design an institution with the significance and relevance of the Met.”

Although Escobedo said it was too early to discuss her design ideas for the new wing, she said it was “important that it connects to the rest of the museum, connects to the park, connects to the city and also to represent the cultural diversity of New York.

The new wing has come under close scrutiny from the art world, as the Met has fallen behind in this area and its current space for modern and contemporary art has long been seen as problematic. The museum was also forced to delay the project, having announced it before raising sufficient funds.

Last fall, the project finally received the main gift it craved when longtime administrator Oscar L. Tang and his wife, Agnes Hsu-Tang, an archaeologist and art historian, donated 125 million dollars for the wing, the largest capital donation. in the history of the museum. The wing will bear the Tang name for at least 50 years.

The museum considered four other architectural firms: Ensamble Studio, Lacaton & Vassal, GROUND and David Chipperfield Architects, whose earlier design had soared to $800 million. In a tweet that was later deleted, Chipperfield said he was “sad to end our 7 year relationship” with the Met and congratulated Escobedo, wishing him “all the best for the project”.

At a time when the cultural world has become increasingly sensitive to issues of equity, Escobedo would seem to represent a significant step forward for a woman of color. But Daniel H. Weiss, president and chief executive of the museum, said that did not influence the Met’s decision. “It’s great that she brings diversity,” he said, “but that wasn’t a criteria of choice.”

Weiss added that Escobedo was the right person to design “an iconic building that speaks to the art of our time” and that he expected the project to be completed in about seven years.

Born in 1979 in Mexico City, Escobedo studied architecture at the Universidad Iberoamericana de Mexico before completing a master’s degree in Art, design and the public domain at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

For Escobedo, who established his architecture practice in Mexico City in 2006, the Met will be his biggest cultural project yet, on a whole other order of magnitude. His previous work has featured several pavilions and other temporary structures, such as those at the Lisbon Architecture Triennial, the Chicago Architecture Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

His Serpentine Pavilion in London, chosen by the Serpentine Gallery’s artistic director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, featured a partially enclosed courtyard framing a triangular swimming pool, with latticework walls made of gray concrete tiles and a curved mirrored canopy.

His other notable projects include an expansion of La Tallera Siqueiros in Cuernavaca (2012), Mexico, a museum, studio and artists’ residence that was the home and studio of muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. She also designed the renovation of the Hotel Boca Chica (2008), a popular destination for Hollywood celebrities in the 1950s, and the Pavilion El Eco (2010), an in situ installation, designed for the Museo Experimental El Eco.

She is currently working – with New York-based Handel Architects – on Ray Harlema joint venture with the National Black Theater that will include residential, commercial and performing spaces.

In 2019, Escobedo was honored as an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and her studio was named one of the “100+ best architecture firms» by the architecture magazine DOMUS.

She has taught at Columbia, Harvard and Rice and currently teaches at Yale.

The Met project will create 80,000 square feet of galleries and public spaces, giving the museum the opportunity to tell the story of modern and contemporary art more fully than it has in the past. In addition to modern and contemporary works, The Tang Wing will include photographs, drawings and prints.

Hollein said the new wing would not provide “a linear path”, but rather “a more open building structure” with galleries that differ in height, scale and exposure to light. At a time when museums like the Museum of Modern Art are rethinking how art is presented, including offering multiple perspectives and juxtaposing diverse genres, the Met’s new wing will also seek to broaden the narrative, Hollein said: “Our presentation of the art will be cross-cultural. .”

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