The Met's permanent collection is curated by seventeen separate departments, each with a specialized staff of curators and scholars, as well as six dedicated conservation departments and a Department of Scientific Research. The permanent collection includes works of art from classical antiquity and ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters, and an extensive collection of American and modern art. The Met maintains extensive holdings of African, Asian, Oceanian, Byzantine, and Islamic art. The museum is also home to encyclopedic collections of musical instruments, costumes and accessories, and antique weapons and armor from around the world. A great number of period rooms, ranging from 1st century Rome through modern American design, are permanently installed in the Met's galleries. In addition to its permanent exhibitions, the Met organizes and hosts large traveling shows throughout the year.
The current chairman of the board, Daniel Brodsky, was elected in 2011 and became chairman three years after director Philippe de Montebello retired at the end of 2008.
On 1 March 2017, the BBC reported that Daniel Weiss, the Met's president and COO, would also temporarily act as CEO for the museum. Following the departure of Thomas P. Campbell as the Met's director and CEO on June 30, 2017, the search for a new director of the Museum was assigned to the human resources firm Phillips Oppenheim to present a new candidate for the position "by the end of the fiscal year in June" of 2018. The next director will report to Weiss as the current president of the museum.
In April 2018, Max Hollein was named director.
Collections: Geographically designated collections
Ancient Near Eastern art
Beginning in the late 19th century, the Met started acquiring ancient art and artifacts from the Near East. From a few cuneiform tablets and seals, the Met's collection of Near Eastern art has grown to more than 7,000 pieces. Representing a history of the region beginning in the Neolithic Period and encompassing the fall of the Sasanian Empire and the end of Late Antiquity, the collection includes works from the Sumerian, Hittite, Sasanian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Elamite cultures (among others), as well as an extensive collection of unique Bronze Age objects. The highlights of the collection include a set of monumental stone lamassu, or guardian figures, from the Northwest Palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II.
Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
Though the Met first acquired a group of Peruvian antiquities in 1882, the museum did not begin a concerted effort to collect works from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas until 1969, when American businessman and philanthropist Nelson A. Rockefeller donated his more than 3,000-piece collection to the museum. Today, the Met's collection contains more than 11,000 pieces from sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas and is housed in the 40,000-square-foot (4,000 m2) Rockefeller Wing on the south end of the museum.
The collection ranges from 40,000-year-old indigenous Australian rock paintings, to a group of 15-foot-tall (4.6 m) memorial poles carved by the Asmat people of New Guinea, to a priceless collection of ceremonial and personal objects from the Nigerian Court of Benin donated by Klaus Perls. The range of materials represented in the Africa, Oceania, and Americas collection is undoubtedly the widest of any department at the Met, including everything from precious metals to porcupine quills.
The Met's Asian department holds a collection of Asian art, of more than 35,000 pieces, that is arguably the most comprehensive in the US. The collection dates back almost to the founding of the museum: many of the philanthropists who made the earliest gifts to the museum included Asian art in their collections. Today, an entire wing of the museum is dedicated to the Asian collection, and spans 4,000 years of Asian art. Every Asian civilization is represented in the Met's Asian department, and the pieces on display include every type of decorative art, from painting and printmaking to sculpture and metalworking. The department is well known for its comprehensive collection of Chinese calligraphy and painting, as well as for its Indian sculptures, Nepalese and Tibetan works, and the arts of Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia and Thailand. All three ancient religions of India – Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism – are well represented in these sculptures. However, not only "art" and ritual objects are represented in the collection; many of the best-known pieces are functional objects. The Asian wing also contains a complete Ming Dynasty-style garden court, modeled on a courtyard in the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou. Maxwell K. Hearn is the current department chairman of Asian Art since 2011.
Mummy, Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC
Though the majority of the Met's initial holdings of Egyptian art came from private collections, items uncovered during the museum's own archeological excavations, carried out between 1906 and 1941, constitute almost half of the current collection. More than 26,000 separate pieces of Egyptian art from the Paleolithic era through the Ptolemaic era constitute the Met's Egyptian collection, and almost all of them are on display in the museum's massive wing of 40 Egyptian galleries. Among the most valuable pieces in the Met's Egyptian collection are 13 wooden models (of the total 24 models found together, 12 models and 1 offering bearer figure is at the Met, while the remaining 10 models and 1 offering bearer figure are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), discovered in a tomb in the Southern Asasif in western Thebes in 1920. These models depict, in unparalleled detail, a cross-section of Egyptian life in the early Middle Kingdom: boats, gardens, and scenes of daily life are represented in miniature. William the Faience Hippopotamus is a miniature shown at right.
However, the popular centerpiece of the Egyptian Art department continues to be the Temple of Dendur. Dismantled by the Egyptian government to save it from rising waters caused by the building of the Aswan High Dam, the large sandstone temple was given to the United States in 1965 and assembled in the Met's Sackler Wing in 1978. Situated in a large room and partially surrounded by a reflecting pool and illuminated by a wall of windows opening onto Central Park, the Temple of Dendur has been one of the Met's most enduring attractions. The oldest items at the Met, a set of Archeulian flints from Deir el-Bahri which date from the Lower Paleolithic period (between 300,000 and 75,000 BC), are part of the Egyptian collection. The curator is Diana Craig Patch.
European paintings at the museum.
The Met's collection of European paintings numbers around 1,700 pieces. The current Chairman of the European Paintings is Keith Christianson who has been at the museum since 1977.
European sculpture and decorative arts
European sculpture court.
The European Sculpture and Decorative Arts collection is one of the largest departments at the Met, holding in excess of 50,000 separate pieces from the 15th through the early 20th centuries. Although the collection is particularly concentrated in Renaissance sculpture—much of which can be seen in situ surrounded by contemporary furnishings and decoration—it also contains comprehensive holdings of furniture, jewelry, glass and ceramic pieces, tapestries, textiles, and timepieces and mathematical instruments. In addition to its outstanding collections of English and French furniture, visitors can enter dozens of completely furnished period rooms, transplanted in their entirety into the Met's galleries. The collection even includes an entire 16th century patio from the Spanish castle of Vélez Blanco, reconstructed in a two-story gallery, and the intarsia studiolo from the ducal palace at Gubbio. Sculptural highlights of the sprawling department include Bernini's Bacchanal, a cast of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais, and several unique pieces by Houdon, including his Bust of Voltaire and his famous portrait of his daughter Sabine.
The museum's collection of American art returned to view in new galleries on January 16, 2012. The new installation provides visitors with the history of American art from the 18th through the early 20th century. The new galleries encompasses 30,000 square feet (2,800 m2) for the display of the museum's collection. The curator in charge of the American Wing since September 2014 is Sylvia Yount.
Greek and Roman art
The Met's collection of Greek and Roman art contains more than 17,000 objects. The Greek and Roman collection dates back to the founding of the museum—in fact, the museum's first accessioned object was a Roman sarcophagus, still currently on display. Though the collection naturally concentrates on items from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, these historical regions represent a wide range of cultures and artistic styles, from classic Greek black-figure and red-figure vases to carved Roman tunic pins.
Highlights of the collection include the monumental Amathus sarcophagus and a magnificently detailed Etruscan chariot known as the "Monteleone chariot". The collection also contains many pieces from far earlier than the Greek or Roman empires—among the most remarkable are a collection of early Cycladic sculptures from the mid-third millennium BC, many so abstract as to seem almost modern. The Greek and Roman galleries also contain several large classical wall paintings and reliefs from different periods, including an entire reconstructed bedroom from a noble villa in Boscoreale, excavated after its entombment by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. In 2007, the Met's Greek and Roman galleries were expanded to approximately 60,000 square feet (6,000 m2), allowing the majority of the collection to be on permanent display.
The Metropolitan Museum owns one of the world's largest collection of works of art of the Islamic world. The collection also includes artifacts and works of art of cultural and secular origin from the time period indicated by the rise of Islam predominantly from the Near East and in contrast to the Ancient Near Eastern collections. The biggest number of miniatures from the "Shahnama" list prepared under the reign of Shah Tahmasp I, the most luxurious of all the existing Islamic manuscripts, also belongs to this museum. Other rarities include the works of Sultan Muhammad and his associates from the Tabriz school "The Sade Holiday", "Tahmiras kills divs", "Bijan and Manizhe", and many others.
The Met's collection of Islamic art is not confined strictly to religious art, though a significant number of the objects in the Islamic collection were originally created for religious use or as decorative elements in mosques. Much of the 12,000 strong collection consists of secular items, including ceramics and textiles, from Islamic cultures ranging from Spain to North Africa to Central Asia. The Islamic Art department's collection of miniature paintings from Iran and Mughal India are a highlight of the collection. Calligraphy both religious and secular is well represented in the Islamic Art department, from the official decrees of Suleiman the Magnificent to a number of Qur'an manuscripts reflecting different periods and styles of calligraphy. Modern calligraphic artists also used a word or phrase to convey a direct message, or they created compositions from the shapes of Arabic words. Others incorporated indecipherable cursive writing within the body of the work to evoke the illusion of writing.
Islamic Arts galleries had been undergoing refurbishment since 2001 and were reopened on November 1, 2011, as the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. Until that time, a narrow selection of items from the collection had been on temporary display throughout the museum. As with many other departments at the Met, the Islamic Art galleries contain many interior pieces, including the entire reconstructed Nur Al-Din Room from an early 18th-century house in Damascus. However, the museum has confirmed to the New York Post that it has withdrawn from public display all paintings depicting Muhammad and may not rehang those that were displayed in the Islamic gallery before the renovation.
Collections: Non-geographically designated collections
Arms and Armor
Arms and armor, Middle Ages main hall
The Met's Department of Arms and Armor is one of the museum's most popular collections. The distinctive "parade" of armored figures on horseback installed in the first-floor Arms and Armor gallery is one of the most recognizable images of the museum, which was organized in 1975 with the help of the Russian immigrant and arms and armors' scholar, Leonid Tarassuk (1925–90). The department's focus on "outstanding craftsmanship and decoration," including pieces intended solely for display, means that the collection is strongest in late medieval European pieces and Japanese pieces from the 5th through the 19th centuries. However, these are not the only cultures represented in Arms and Armor; the collection spans more geographic regions than almost any other department, including weapons and armor from dynastic Egypt, ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the ancient Near East, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, as well as American firearms (especially Colt firearms) from the 19th and 20th centuries. Among the collection's 14,000 objects are many pieces made for and used by kings and princes, including armor belonging to Henry VIII of England, Henry II of France, and Ferdinand I of Germany.
Robe à la française 1740s, as seen in one of the exhibits at the Costume Institute.
The Museum of Costume Art was founded by Aline Bernstein and Irene Lewisohn. In 1937, they merged with the Met and became its Costume Institute department. Today, its collection contains more than 35,000 costumes and accessories. The Costume Institute used to have a permanent gallery space in what was known as the "Basement" area of the Met because it was downstairs at the bottom of the Met facility. However, due to the fragile nature of the items in the collection, the Costume Institute does not maintain a permanent installation. Instead, every year it holds two separate shows in the Met's galleries using costumes from its collection, with each show centering on a specific designer or theme. The Costume Institute is known for hosting the annual Met Gala and in the past has presented summer exhibitions such as Savage Beauty and China: Through the Looking Glass.
In past years, Costume Institute shows organized around famous designers such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Gianni Versace; and style doyenne like Diana Vreeland, Mona von Bismarck, Babe Paley, Jayne Wrightsman, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Nan Kempner, and Iris Apfel have drawn significant crowds to the Met. The Costume Institute's annual Benefit Gala, co-chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, is an extremely popular, if exclusive, event in the fashion world; in 2007, the 700 available tickets started at $6,500 per person.
Exhibits displayed over the past decade in the Costume Institute include: Rock Style, in 1999, representing the style of more than 40 rock musicians, including Madonna, David Bowie, and The Beatles; Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed, in 2001, which exposes the transforming ideas of physical beauty over time and the bodily contortion necessary to accommodate such ideals and fashion; The Chanel Exhibit, displayed in 2005, acknowledging the skilled work of designer Coco Chanel as one of the leading fashion names in history; Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, exhibited in 2008, suggesting the metaphorical vision of superheroes as ultimate fashion icons; the 2010 exhibit on the American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, which exposes the revolutionary styles of the American woman from the years 1890 to 1940, and how such styles reflect the political and social sentiments of the time. The theme of the 2011 event was "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty". Each of these exhibits explores fashion as a mirror of cultural values and offers a glimpse into historical styles, emphasizing their evolution into today's own fashion world. On January 14, 2014, the Met named the Costume Institute complex after Anna Wintour. The curator is Andrew Bolton.
Drawings and prints
Though other departments contain significant numbers of drawings and prints, the Drawings and Prints department specifically concentrates on North American pieces and western European works produced after the Middle Ages. The first Old Master drawings, comprising 670 sheets, were presented as a single group in 1880 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II and in effect launched the department, though it was not formally constituted as a department until later. Other early donors to the department include Junius Spencer Morgan II who presented a broad range of material, but mainly dated from the sixteenth century, including 2 woodblocks and many prints by Albrecht Dürer in 1919. Currently, the Drawings and Prints collection contains more than 17,000 drawings, 1.5 million prints, and twelve thousand illustrated books. The great masters of European painting, who produced many more sketches and drawings than actual paintings, are extensively represented in the Drawing and Prints collection. The department's holdings contain major drawings by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, as well as prints and etchings by Van Dyck, Dürer, and Degas among many others. The curator is Nadine Orenstein.
Robert Lehman Collection
On the death of banker Robert Lehman in 1969, his Foundation donated 2,600 works of art to the museum. Housed in the "Robert Lehman Wing," the museum refers to the collection as "one of the most extraordinary private art collections ever assembled in the United States". To emphasize the personal nature of the Robert Lehman Collection, the Met housed the collection in a special set of galleries which evoked the interior of Lehman's richly decorated townhouse; this intentional separation of the Collection as a "museum within the museum" met with mixed criticism and approval at the time, though the acquisition of the collection was seen as a coup for the Met. Unlike other departments at the Met, the Robert Lehman collection does not concentrate on a specific style or period of art; rather, it reflects Lehman's personal interests. Lehman the collector concentrated heavily on paintings of the Italian Renaissance, particularly the Sienese school. Paintings in the collection include masterpieces by Botticelli and Domenico Veneziano, as well as works by a significant number of Spanish painters, El Greco and Goya among them. Lehman's collection of drawings by the Old Masters, featuring works by Rembrandt and Dürer, is particularly valuable for its breadth and quality. Princeton University Press has documented the massive collection in a multi-volume book series published as The Robert Lehman Collection Catalogues.
Medieval art and the Cloisters
The Met's collection of medieval art consists of a comprehensive range of Western art from the 4th through the early 16th centuries, as well as Byzantine and pre-medieval European antiquities not included in the Ancient Greek and Roman collection. Like the Islamic collection, the Medieval collection contains a broad range of two- and three-dimensional art, with religious objects heavily represented. In total, the Medieval Art department's permanent collection numbers about 11,000 separate objects, divided between the main museum building on Fifth Avenue and The Cloisters.
The medieval collection in the main Metropolitan building, centered on the first-floor medieval gallery, contains about six thousand separate objects. While a great deal of European medieval art is on display in these galleries, most of the European pieces are concentrated at the Cloisters (see below). However, this allows the main galleries to display much of the Met's Byzantine art side-by-side with European pieces. The main gallery is host to a wide range of tapestries and church and funerary statuary, while side galleries display smaller works of precious metals and ivory, including reliquary pieces and secular items. The main gallery, with its high arched ceiling, also serves double duty as the annual site of the Met's elaborately decorated Christmas tree.
The Cloisters museum and gardens
The Cloisters was a principal project of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a major benefactor of the Met. Located in Fort Tryon Park and completed in 1938, it is a separate building dedicated solely to medieval art. The Cloisters collection was originally that of a separate museum, assembled by George Grey Barnard and acquired in toto by Rockefeller in 1925 as a gift to the Met.
The Cloisters are so named on account of the five medieval French cloisters whose salvaged structures were incorporated into the modern building, and the five thousand objects at the Cloisters are strictly limited to medieval European works. The collection features items of outstanding beauty and historical importance; including the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry illustrated by the Limbourg Brothers in 1409, the Romanesque altar cross known as the "Cloisters Cross" or "Bury Cross", and the seven tapestries depicting the Hunt of the Unicorn.
Modern and contemporary art
With some 13,000 artworks, primarily by European and American artists, the modern art collection occupies 60,000 square feet (6,000 m2), of gallery space and contains many iconic modern works. Cornerstones of the collection include Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein, Jasper Johns's White Flag, Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), and Max Beckmann's triptych Beginning. Certain artists are represented in remarkable depth, for a museum whose focus is not exclusively on modern art: for example, the collection contains forty paintings by Paul Klee, spanning his entire career. Due to the Met's long history, "contemporary" paintings acquired in years past have often migrated to other collections at the museum, particularly to the American and European Paintings departments.
In April 2013, it was reported that the museum was to receive a collection worth $1 billion from cosmetics tycoon Leonard Lauder. The collection of Cubist art includes work by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris and went on display in 2014.
The Met's collection of musical instruments, with about 5,000 examples of musical instruments from all over the world, is virtually unique among major museums. The collection began in 1889 with a donation of 270 instruments by Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown, who joined her collection to become the museum's first curator of musical instruments, named in honor of her husband, John Crosby Brown. By the time she died, the collection had 3,600 instruments that she had donated and the collection was housed in five galleries. Instruments were (and continue to be) included in the collection not only on aesthetic grounds, but also insofar as they embodied technical and social aspects of their cultures of origin. The modern Musical Instruments collection is encyclopedic in scope; every continent is represented at virtually every stage of its musical life. Highlights of the department's collection include several Stradivari violins, a collection of Asian instruments made from precious metals, and the oldest surviving piano, a 1720 model by Bartolomeo Cristofori. Many of the instruments in the collection are playable, and the department encourages their use by holding concerts and demonstrations by guest musicians.
La Tour St. Jacques La Boucherie à Paris
by Charles Soulier, 1867.
The Met's collection of photographs, numbering more than 25,000 in total, is centered on five major collections plus additional acquisitions by the museum. Alfred Stieglitz, a famous photographer himself, donated the first major collection of photographs to the museum, which included a comprehensive survey of Photo-Secessionist works, a rich set of master prints by Edward Steichen, and an outstanding collection of Stieglitz's photographs from his own studio. The Met supplemented Stieglitz's gift with the 8,500-piece Gilman Paper Company Collection, the Rubel Collection, and the Ford Motor Company Collection, which respectively provided the collection with early French and American photography, early British photography, and post-WWI American and European photography. The museum also acquired Walker Evans's personal collection of photographs, a particular coup considering the high demand for his works. The department of photography was founded in 1992. Though the department gained a permanent gallery in 1997, not all of the department's holdings are on display at any given time, due to the sensitive materials represented in the photography collection. However, the Photographs department has produced some of the best-received temporary exhibits in the Met's recent past, including a Diane Arbus retrospective and an extensive show devoted to spirit photography. In 2007, the museum designated a gallery exclusively for the exhibition of photographs made after 1960.
Beginning in 2013, the Met organized the Digital Media Department for the purpose of increasing access of the museum's collections and resources using digital media and expanded website services. The first Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan from 2013 departed in 2016 and was replaced by Loic Tallon at the time that the department became known by its simplified designation as the Digital Department. At the start of 2017, the department began its Open Access initiative summarized on the Met's website titled "Digital Underground" stating: "It's been six months since The Met launched its Open Access initiative, which made available all 375,000+ images of public-domain works in The Met collection under Creative Commons Zero (CC0). During what is just the dawn of this new initiative, the responses so far have been incredible." At that time, more than 375,000 photographic images from the museum's archival collection were released for public domain reproduction and use both by the general public and by large public access websites such as those available at Google BigQuery.
On March 18, 2016, the museum opened a new venue in the Marcel Breuer-designed building at Madison Avenue and 75th Street in Manhattan's Upper East Side, the former Whitney Museum of American Art. It extends the museum's modern and contemporary art program.