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The Metropolitan Museum of Art scores its largest capital gift ever — $125 million

The pandemic was a major blow to the museum's budget. But this historic gift will allow it to expand its collection of modern and contemporary art.
Spencer Platt
The pandemic was a major blow to the museum's budget. But this historic gift will allow it to expand its collection of modern and contemporary art.

Even before the pandemic, money was tight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But now, the museum has announced its largest capital gift ever — $125 million. The cash will fund a renovation of the museum's Modern Wing, which will include creating 80,000 square feet of galleries and public space. The ambitious project has been talked about for more than a decade, but had to be delayed due to a lack of funds.

The museum's benefactors are trustee Oscar Tang and his wife, Agnes Hsu-Tang, and the new space will bear their names.

Oscar Tang is a retired financier, and co-founder of the investment management company Reich & Tang. His previous philanthropic works include gifts to the New York Philharmonic and the Phillips Academy Andover, which he attended. Agnes Hsu-Tang is an archaeologist and art historian, and is a senior research scholar at Columbia University. She previously served on UNESCO World Heritage Centre's scientific committees.

"The accomplishments and generosity of Oscar and Agnes are awe-inspiring," said Max Hollein, the Met's director, in a press release. "The reimagining of these galleries will allow the Museum to approach 20th- and 21st-century art from a global, encyclopedic, bold, and surprising perspective—all values that reflect the legacy of Oscar and Agnes."

How to complete this massive project has been a question Hollein's been wrangling ever since he got the director job in 2018. The pandemic affected the budgets of all museums across the country — the Met even projected a $150 million budget shortfall last year. Even so, museum leaders sparked something of a controversy in the art world when they announced they'd be taking advantage of newly-loosened guidelines to sell some works of art to make up the money ("deaccessioning," as its known in museum-speak).

That decision drew some criticism even from Hollein's predecessor, Thomas Campbell,who compared museums deaccessioning works to "crack cocaine to the addict – a rapid hit, that becomes a dependency."

Hollein responded in an interview with NPR earlier this year, saying, "I don't think it's a slippery slope. I think the slippery slope would rather be if we as museums would dip into our endowment, into our funds that we have operations, and diminish them because that would then have enormous effects in the long run."

The architecture firm for the new wing will be announced in 2022.

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Andrew Limbong
Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.