The retail store has long been located right off the museum’s Great Hall, right next to the entrance used by most visitors. (I may or may not have had a college art history professor who shamelessly advised students to enter through the gift shop to avoid the shame of giving a penny under the old “suggested donation” admission policy.)
Now, the museum is planning to raise $50 million to convert the 11,500-square-foot space into a new showcase for the popular Costume Institute, which each year welcomes some of the world’s most famous and fashionable movie stars, musicians, and other celebrities for its Met Gala fundraising event—which is always accompanied by a blockbuster exhibition, like this year’s “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty.”
The institute currently is housed in a ground-floor space known as the Anna Wintour Costume Center, redesigned in 2014 to include galleries as well as a conservation laboratory and storage facilities for the over 33,000 objects in its collections. The new galleries will be far more prominent, in a can’t-miss location with potential second-story space on the mezzanine level.
“Symbolically, the new gallery will reflect fashion’s central role within the museum,” Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton told the . “Fashion—or the dressed body—is the only form of artistic expression that connects all curatorial departments, and the Great Hall project will provide more opportunities for cross-departmental collaborations, underscoring the notion that fashion is the connecting thread between the museum’s collections.”
The museum has tapped Anna Wintour, Condé Nast global editorial director and editor, to lead the fundraising efforts for “the Great Hall Gallery Project,” as the renovation has been dubbed. (This year’s Met Gala, with tickets at $50,000 a pop, raised a record $22 million, according to .) In addition to hosting the Costume Institute’s annual exhibition, the new galleries will be used by other department for additional shows throughout the year.
“We can present the Costume Institute spring shows and address the overcrowding their popularity causes in other areas of the museum,” Met director Max Hollein wrote in an email to museum staff. “This will allow for more preparation time and longer runs for the spring CI shows and more flexible scheduling for our other large spaces.”
The work will also be accompanied by a major change to the ground floor entrance to the museum at East 83rd Street and Fifth Avenue, which is currently used only during special events in the Met auditorium. This will provide easier public access to the museum, which famously has its main entrance atop a grand staircase.
The museum plans to reconfigure its ground floor dining and retail spaces, swapping the current public cafeteria, the Eatery located in the rear of the building through the Robert Lehman Collection Galleries, with the staff facility, beneath the Great Hall. That will allow the Met to keep its restaurant open after museum hours, providing new visitor experiences to the community.
While work is underway, the Met plans to open temporary retail spaces within the museum, ensuring all gift shop employees retain their jobs.
The museum’s Great Hall has been subtly updated in recent years to move ticketing desks out of the main space, and to display monumental ancient sculptures where there were once seating benches.
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