Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, who at age 38 was the youngest architect to design the Serpentine Pavilion in 2018, has been selected to design the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new wing for modern and contemporary art, worth $500 million dollars. the museum announced on Sunday.
“It is a very important assignment,” said museum director Max Hollein in a telephone interview. “This collection will continue to grow more significantly than any other area.”
“She is a strong voice in the architectural discourse,” he added of Escobedo. “She makes very contemporary buildings rooted in a modern canon.”
Escobedo, 42, is a surprising choice for such a large assignment, as she is relatively young, has mainly designed temporary structures and is not a household name. But she said she felt undaunted and excited by the task.
“I like challenges,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Mexico City. “One of the dream jobs for any architect is to design an institution with the importance and relevance of the Met.”
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While Escobedo said it was too early to discuss her design ideas for the new wing, she said it was “important to connect with the rest of the museum, to connect to the park, to connect to the city and also to represent New York’s cultural diversity.”
The new wing is being watched closely by the art world, as the Met is lagging behind in this field and the current space for modern and contemporary art has long been considered problematic. The museum was also forced to postpone the project because it announced it before sufficient funds had been raised.
Last fall, the project finally received the first gift it longed for when a longtime trustee, Oscar L. Tang, and his wife, Agnes Hsu‐Tang, an archaeologist and art historian, donated $125 million to the wing, the largest capital gift in the world. history of the museum. The wing will be named after the Tangs for at least 50 years.
The museum considered four other architecture firms: Ensamble Studio, Lacaton & Vassal, SO – IL and David Chipperfield Architects, whose previous design had risen in price to a whopping $800 million. In a tweet that was subsequently deleted, Chipperfield posted that he was “sad to end our 7-year relationship” with the Met and congratulated Escobedo and wished her “the best for the project”.
At a time when the cultural world has become increasingly sensitive to equality issues, Escobedo appears to be an important step forward for a woman of color. But Daniel H. Weiss, the museum’s president and chief executive, said it didn’t influence the Met’s decision. “It’s great that she brings diversity,” he said, “but that wasn’t a criterion in the choice.”
Weiss added that Escobedo was the right person to design “a landmark building that speaks to the art of our time” and that he expected the project to be completed in about seven years.
Born in 1979 in Mexico City, Escobedo studied architecture at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City before earning a master’s degree in art, design and the public domain from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
For Escobedo, who founded her architectural firm in Mexico City in 2006, the Met will be her largest cultural project to date, of an entirely different order of magnitude. Her previous work has been featured in various pavilions and other temporary structures, such as those for the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, the Chicago Architecture Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Her Serpentine Pavilion in London, chosen by the Artistic Director of the Serpentine Gallery, Hans Ulrich Obrist, featured a partially enclosed courtyard framing a triangular pool, with latticework walls made of gray concrete roof tiles and a curved mirrored canopy.
Her other notable projects include an extension of La Tallera Siqueiros in Cuernavaca (2012), Mexico, a museum, workshop and artist residence that was the home and studio of the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. She also designed the renovation of Hotel Boca Chica (2008), a popular destination for Hollywood celebrities in the 1950s, and the El Eco Pavilion (2010), a site-specific installation designed for the Museo Experimental El Eco.
She is currently working – with New York City-based Handel Architects – on Ray Harlem, a joint venture with the National Black Theater that will include residential, retail and performance spaces.
In 2019, Escobedo was honored as an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and her studio was named one of the world’s “100+ Best Architecture Firms” by the architecture magazine DOMUS.
She has taught at Columbia, Harvard and Rice and currently teaches at Yale.
The Met project will create 80,000 square feet of galleries and public space, giving the museum the opportunity to tell the story of modern and contemporary art more fully than in the past. In addition to modern and contemporary works, The Tang Wing will feature photographs, drawings and prints.
Hollein said the new wing would not provide a “linear path”, but instead “a more open building structure” with galleries that differ in height, scale and light exposure. At a time when museums like the Museum of Modern Art are rethinking the presentation of art, including providing multiple perspectives and juxtaposing different genres, the Met’s new wing will also seek to expand the narrative, Hollein said: “Our presentation of art will be transcultural.”