Thomas Campbell

Metropolitan Museum of Art - American Wing Inaugural Remarks

delivered 18 May 2009, New York, NY


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Emily K. Rafferty: Please welcome the man who sets the vision for the Metropolitan Museum of Art as it embraces the 21st century. Our Director, Thomas Campbell.

Thomas Campbell: Thank you Emily, Jamie.

Senators, Governor, Mr. Mayor and all the great friends and distinguished supporters of this institution, who have gathered here today for this extraordinary moment in the long history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Until today Diana, the golden lady with the bow and arrow in the center of the vast room, was the first lady of the American wing. Today she yields her place as our truly beloved First Lady of the United States graces this opening with her presence. It is a great honor for the two thousand plus members of staff who work at this institution and indeed for all Americans whose cultural and artistic legacy is presented in these new galleries.

We are sitting in one of the signature spaces of the Metropolitan Museum, the Charles Engelhard Court, the subject of a multi-year renovation along with the galleries contained in the building behind me.

I cannot let the moment go by without noting that the early 19th century façade is that of the branch bank, Federal Bank of the United States which originally stood on Wall Street. Please forgive me if I boast just a little bit by noting that long before President Obama saved more than a few banks himself, the Met did its best to set a good example.

In conjunction, this courtyard and the rooms beyond now provide a glittering repository for the greatest collection of American fine and decorative arts in existence at any museum anywhere.

As you look around you will see architectural components, iconic sculptures, a stellar collection of decorative arts, ceramics, furniture, silver, and glass. And beyond the façade, we have a new installation of 20 period rooms dating from 17th century Puritan New England to early 20th century Minnesota.

In these rooms, visitors will tour the history of colonial American art, engaging with works by Paul Revere, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Stanford White, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many other American masters. As a whole they provide a unique opportunity for us to gain understanding and appreciation for the life and aspirations of early generations of Americans.

Although this is a project I inherited from my predecessor Philippe de Montebello, I should note it embodies the vision -- the vision that I cherish for the museum's future. The new galleries highlight the permanent collection and incorporate a carefully balanced mix of traditional signage and modern technology, presenting art works in the clearest and most informative as well as esthetically pleasing manner possible.

At this moment, it is only fitting that I pay homage to the work of Morrison Heckscher, the Chairman of the American Wing, who has led this brilliant renovation and to the team of curators, conservators, installers, educators, and technicians who've brought this work to fruition.

The American collections that we reopen to the public today are exceptional. They are especially so in that they sit in a museum within a museum. Beyond these walls lie the rest of the Metropolitan's vast collections. These include many other aspects of American art and culture. Native American works in the Department of Oceania and the Americas, 19th and 20th century photography, paintings and sculpture in the Departments of Photography and Modern Art.

But that is only part of the broader context. Along side these extraordinary treasures of American art and culture, our collections span five thousand years of recorded history from all corners of the globe. Two million objects displayed or stored in as many feet. Within a few minutes walk of these galleries you can be in ancient Egypt or ancient America or any time period in European, Middle Eastern, or Asian art and culture.

America has historically been a melting pot, bringing together many disparate cultures to form a great nation. The collection at the Metropolitan Museum reflects this and speaks to this heterogeneous mix.

Today in our ever more globally integrated world, encyclopedic museums such as the Metropolitan are more important than ever. Not only does the Metropolitan help Americans understand their own roots at the highest level of artistic quality but it also educates us to understand and appreciate those of our neighbors around the world as well.

Here every visitor can find the historical perspective to better understand where they come from, who they are, and who they might aspire to be. It is our mission to collect, study, educate, and share the finest achievements of all cultures and it is in our robust and unflagging commitment to that educational ideal that we reopen this wing today.

Today, we give this space back to the people of America to enjoy, to learn from, and to be inspired by.

Thank you.

Research Note: Transcription by Diane Wiegand

Page Updated: 8/3/18

U.S. Copyright Status: Text = Uncertain.

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