Sneak Peek Inside the Met Breuer, New York’s Newly Restored Brutalist Gem

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By Aileen Kwun / Published by Dwell
Following an extensive restoration of a Marcel Breuer–designed building—formerly home of the Whitney Museum—New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art prepares for the grand opening of its newest location on March 18.

It's a big month for New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. On March 18, the nation's largest art museum will host the grand opening of its third and newest location, the Met Breuer, housed in the Brutalist landmark that was vacated by the Whitney Museum of American Art in October 2014. Boldly named in homage to its architect—the Hungarian-born, Bauhaus-trained Marcel Breuer, who completed the structure in 1966—the much-anticipated expansion comes on the tails of several new updates being rolled out by the museum.

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A view of the Met Breuer by night, featuring new signage and a touch of red beneath the eave of its main entrance—a nod to the museum's institution-wide rebranding announced last week.

Last week, the institution announced its new logo—a scarlet-red logotype of stacked and compressed, serif letters spelling out its colloquially abbreviated name, The Met—as well as the beta version of their new site: what director Thomas P. Campbell is calling the museum's "fourth space." The digital overhaul serves to clearly unite information on the institution's news and programs across its three physical locations (the Met Fifth Avenue, Met Cloisters, and Met Breuer). 

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The museum worked closely with Jack Beyer of the New York-based firm Beyer Blinder Belle, which specializes in architectural preservation. The team worked painstakingly to preserve the natural patina that had accrued over time, including the granite staircase.

While the bold updates have been met with mixed public reception, however, visitors are less likely to pick up on any visible wild cards at the opening this month. A peek of red greets visitors at the front entrance, where an accent has been added to the underside of the streetside awning, and banners with the institution's new logos were put up earlier this week. Inside, Breuer fans will be pleased to find that most everything has been left intact—and painstakingly, lovingly polished.

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An installation view of Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, one of three inaugural shows that will be on view when the Met Breuer opens on March 18. The thematic survey presents a series of works, from Renaissance to the present day, that were left incomplete by their makers.

"When the museum took over the building, one of the first things we wanted to do was see it as an artwork or a sculpture that we were trying to restore," says Beatrice Gailiee, who joined the Met in as its first-ever curator focused on contemporary architecture and design, in 2014. "And that means basically bringing it down to its original essence by scrubbing things down, removing accrued dirt, replacing lightbulbs that didn't work properly—all of those things—but also retaining the burnishing of the lift doors. There were people scrubbing details with toothbrushes, scrubbing and scrubbing, taking samples: the full audit."

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Subtle changes were made to the ground-floor lobby, with an eye towards retaining the building's natural patina while clarifying the original vision of architect Marcel Breuer, who completed the structure in 1966.

Sneak Peek Inside the Met Breuer, New York’s Newly Restored Brutalist Gem - Photo 5 of 6 - The opening of the Met Breuer is the latest in a suite of changes afoot at the Met—last week, it announced its institution-wide overhaul of its visual identity, completed by agency WolffOlins.

The opening of the Met Breuer is the latest in a suite of changes afoot at the Met—last week, it announced its institution-wide overhaul of its visual identity, completed by agency WolffOlins.

With an eye towards both conserving and restoring the beloved Brutalist masterpiece as an acquisition itself, the museum carried out the extensive efforts in partnership with Jack Beyer of New York–based firm Beyer Blinder Belle, which specializes in preserving historic structures. Subtle changes to the interior include a clearer entrance lobby. Galilee says a soffit, formerly hanging over the coatcheck area, was removed to reveal Breuer's original grid of lighting on the ceiling; the bookstore was also relocated to the fifth floor, where a new cafe will also be introduced. These small but notable gestures serve to greatly clarify the ground-floor spaces, arguably the most-trafficked area of the museum at any given time.

Sneak Peek Inside the Met Breuer, New York’s Newly Restored Brutalist Gem - Photo 6 of 6 - A statement from the Met reads: "Our new logo no longer relies on symbols and, instead, is based on our commonly used name "The Met," which has an immediacy that speaks to all audiences. It is an original drawing, a hybrid that combines and connects serif and sans serif, classical and modern letterforms. In this respect, it reflects the scope of the Museum's collection and the inherent connections that exist within it." The design was completed by WolffOlins, and will be applied across wayfinding, advertisings, and all printed collateral.

A statement from the Met reads: "Our new logo no longer relies on symbols and, instead, is based on our commonly used name "The Met," which has an immediacy that speaks to all audiences. It is an original drawing, a hybrid that combines and connects serif and sans serif, classical and modern letterforms. In this respect, it reflects the scope of the Museum's collection and the inherent connections that exist within it." The design was completed by WolffOlins, and will be applied across wayfinding, advertisings, and all printed collateral.

Program-wise, the Met Breuer will host the institution's expanded focus on contemporary and modern art from the 20th-century to the present, an initiative led by Sheena Wagstaff, who was tapped to join the museum four years ago, following a stint as chief curator of London's Tate Modern. The inaugural lineup of exhibitions include a "sonic experience" by John Luther Adams, who has composed a nine-minute piece—free for download—that's timed for visitors to listen to from the nine-block walk between the Met Fifth Avenue and the Met Breuer. This November, Galilee (who is currently at work on this summer's Roof Garden commission at the museum's main branch) will also mount "Inhabiting Marcel Breuer's Architecture," featuring newly commissioned photographs of four of the architect's iconic works.