Metropolitan Museum to transform its largest retail space into a gallery

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Visitors who queue by the thousands to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s hugely popular Costume Institute exhibitions will one day no longer need to go in search of its next blockbuster fashion show once inside—it will be right off the lobby. The museum will spend upwards of $50m transforming what is currently its main retail location, an 11,500 sq. ft space just off its great hall, into a gallery for Costume Institute exhibitions and relocating its main shop to a ground-level space that will also feature a new restaurant.

The relocated store and new eatery at street level will be open to the public even on days the museum is closed, according to The New York Times. The reconfiguration will allow the Met to better accommodate the droves of visitors who come to see the Costume Institute exhibitions each spring, and allow those shows to stay up longer. Between fashion exhibitions, the new galleries will host other shows.

Fundraising for the project is being led by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, a longtime supporter of the Costume Institute (which was renamed in her honour in 2014). “This project is in its very early stages,” she told the Times, “but I am always dedicated to helping the museum and of course the Costume Institute in any way I can.”

The reconfiguration of retail and restaurant spaces reflects a desire by museum leaders to create more inviting approach at street level, rather than the potentially daunting entry up the Met’s grand front staircase. “This project presents an opportunity for us to invest even more in the visitor experience,” Hollein wrote to Met staff in a letter quoted by the Times. “It will create an even more accessible institution for those who thought the stairs sends a certain signal.”

The changes will entail temporary relocations of certain back-of-house and public-facing facilities and spaces. Presently the area beneath the grand staircase, which will house the new restaurant and store, is not accessible to the public. A timeline for the project has not been specified. Spokespersons for the Met had not responded to requests for further information as of press time.

The so-called “Great Hall Gallery Project” comes amid several other construction projects across the Met’s campus. Last month the museum inaugurated a new interactive education centre on its ground floor. The museum is also in the midst of revamping its African, ancient American and Oceanic art galleries (officially the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing), as well as its Ancient Near Eastern and Cypriot galleries. Its biggest project, still in relatively early stages, is a $500m transformation of its Modern and contemporary art wing, which is being led by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo.

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