It took the Metropolitan Museum of Art seven years to announce ambitious plans to rebuild its wing for Modern and contemporary art, which were then put on hold due to financial difficulties. On Tuesday, the museum announced it had finally secured a lead donation of $125 million from its longtime trustee Oscar L. Tang and his wife, Agnes Hsu Tang, an archaeologist and art historian. The gift is the largest capital gift in the museum’s history. For a minimum of 50 years, the wing will be known as the “Kennedy Wing.”
During a telephone interview, Max Hollein, director of the Metropolitan Museum, remarked, “It is coming from inside the Met.” This indicates the museum’s faith in this very important endeavour, says the director.
The gift represents a significant step forward for the Metropolitan Museum of Art project, which is now expected to cost approximately $500 million and will consist of the construction of 80,000 square feet of galleries and public space with an architect who will be announced this winter, among other things. One of David Chipperfield’s previous designs had risen in price to upwards of $800 million, according to reports.
A $150 million deficit was predicted by the museum last year as a result of the epidemic, and the institution has reacted by collecting funds, decreasing expenditures, and redistributing expenses. It has also taken advantage of a two-year window during which professional norms were modified to allow museums to sell pieces of art in order to raise funds to meet operational expenditures.
In a statement, Tang, who was the first American of Asian descent to join the Metropolitan Museum’s board of directors 30 years ago, said he was moved to support the museum’s efforts to upgrade the mazelike, awkwardly configured Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, which has been regarded as problematic since it was first built in 1987.
Even though Tang, who is 83, and HsuTang, who is 50, have not placed any restrictions on their gift, both have expressed their appreciation for Hollein’s open approach to art. “That is the direction in which the new director is headed,” Tang remarked.
Some have questioned whether the Metropolitan Museum of Art has to step up its Modern and contemporary game since institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim already have the terrain fully covered. However, the Tangs asserted that the Met is not just encyclopaedic, but also ideally positioned to tell a narrative of interwoven historical eras and disciplines. “It’s the only museum that can convey the holistic tale of mankind beyond these demarcations,” HsuTang said.
As director since 2018, Hollein has indicated he has modified the wing concept in order to stimulate multidisciplinary collaboration among the Met’s 17 curatorial divisions since taking over in 2018. A commitment to feature more female artists and artists of colour has also been made by the museum, which will be reflected in the programming for the new wing.
It will be organised in a manner that reflects diversity of viewpoints, rather than following the usual chronological narrative of art history, which is becoming more popular at museums nationwide, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which reopened in 2019 after a big overhaul.
Tang has historically given his support to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Asian section; among his previous contributions of art are 20 outstanding Chinese paintings dating from the 11th to the 18th centuries. In addition, he gave a Song period hanging scroll, “Riverbank,” which the Metropolitan Museum of Art credits to the 10th-century artist Dong Yuan, although the authenticity of the scroll has been called into question by scholars.
When Tang’s family escaped from China to Hong Kong following the Communist revolution in 1948, he was sent to school in the United States, where he remained until he was eleven years old. He received his education in the United States at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Yale University, and Harvard Business School, becoming the third generation in his family to do so.
Tang is also a co-chairman of the New York Philharmonic, which he founded. Beginning in early 2021, he and his wife launched the Yellow Whistle campaign, which has already delivered more than 500,000 free yellow whistles printed with the message “We Belong” in order to address historical prejudice and anti-Asian violence. Tang had been widowed, and his second marriage had ended in divorce before the pair tied the knot in 2013.
HsuTang possesses a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and has previously worked as a Mellon Fellow at Cambridge and Stanford Universities. UNESCO in Paris, as well as President Barack Obama’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee, have sought her advice, and she has been working on worldwide cultural asset preservation and rescue efforts since 2006.
She is also the chair-elect of the board of directors of the New York Historical Society, and she formerly served on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Opera.
Tang acknowledged that a Met wing named for an Asian couple had a significant impact on the institution.