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The Metropolitan Museum of Art to renovate its galleries for Ancient Near Eastern and Cypriot Art
View looking south through the galleries for Ancient Near Eastern Art. Rendering by NADAAA, with graphic design by Morcos Key.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today the complete renovation of its galleries for Ancient Near Eastern and Cypriot Art. The reimagined space will introduce an innovative and forward-thinking approach to presenting art from Cyprus and ancient West Asia—a vast region that includes ancient Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean coast, Yemen, and Central Asia—by creating a more deeply engaging experience and providing spaces for contemporary discourse and discussion. The renovation will also bring these two major collection areas, which previously have been displayed separately, into dialogue with each other, reflecting areas of interconnection between their cultures in antiquity. The Museum has selected the Boston-based architectural firm NADAAA, led by principal designer Nader Tehrani, for the $40 million, 15,000-square-foot project. The new galleries are scheduled to open in 2025.

Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art stated, “The Met’s collections of art from ancient West Asia and Cyprus are among the most comprehensive of its kind in the United States, spanning 10,000 years of art and history. With our stewardship of this heritage comes an institutional responsibility, which we welcome, to provide our wide audience with a way to appreciate the material that is contemporary and accessible.”

Presently, the Museum’s ancient West Asian and Cypriot works of art reside in 11 galleries on the second floor of the Museum, adjacent to the Asian and Islamic collections. Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met commented: “This bold renovation will present new scholarship and reflect diverse narratives, re-centering regional cultures and perspectives. By integrating these formerly separate areas of The Met collection, we can illuminate meaningful and informative connections with our ancient West Asian and Cypriot holdings and extend those links to nearby galleries presenting Asian, Islamic, and 19th-century European art, as well as to galleries across the Museum.”

The renovation will introduce architectural and design elements that both reflect the materials and geographic origins of the works of art on view; it will also invite people to gather and engage with the collection from multiple perspectives.

Kim Benzel, Curator in Charge of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art commented, “This project will introduce a thoughtfully reconsidered presentation that celebrates the formative cultural, artistic, and intellectual achievements of the vital and vibrant region of ancient West Asia, and its pivotal role in forging cultural interconnections within the broader ancient world from China to the Mediterranean. By expanding the canon and conversations to be more trans-cultural and multicentric, and by engaging with heritage communities and diaspora groups, we will be able to highlight alternative narratives and contextualize ancient objects within contemporary discourse.”

Seán Hemingway, John A. and Carole O. Moran Curator in Charge of the Department of Greek and Roman Art, said, “This project is an opportunity to present the richness and breadth of the Museum’s historic Cesnola collection of Cypriot art from the prehistoric periods to the Roman era. Like New York City, the island of Cyprus has always attracted people from diverse cultures. The new display will highlight the island’s role as an ancient crossroads and explore the dynamic visual and cultural intersections between Cyprus and ancient West Asia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.”

The Design

The newly envisioned galleries will employ an open floor plan that unites the galleries for Ancient Near Eastern and Cypriot Art while creating a sense of scale and grandeur befitting the collections. The new plan will create vistas that open to the Great Hall Balcony and Asian Art displays to the north and the galleries for Islamic Art and European Paintings to the south. The Ancient Near Eastern Art galleries will be characterized by a series of architectural backdrops that reflect the materials used in the works on display such as clay, copper, bronze, gold, silver, and lapis lazuli. The Cypriot galleries will forefront the artifacts—especially the outstanding works of Cypriot limestone sculpture—to help frame the installations. A monumental ramp will connect the Ancient Near Eastern and Cypriot collections, deepening the relationship between the works of art on view and improving access for visitors within that space and those moving across the second floor of the Museum. Improving gallery infrastructure is a key component of the Museum’s strategy to reduce its carbon footprint and energy consumption, and the project scope also includes critical repairs and replacements of a portion of the skylights above the galleries. With the replacement of the skylights over the northern portion of the project, the Museum expects to reduce energy consumption in this area by approximately 40%, aligning with the city’s PlaNYC interim target.

“At The Met, architecture serves as the cultural armature for the display of art,” commented Jhaelen Hernandez-Eli, Head of Construction for the Museum. “Nader Tehrani and NADAAA’s contemporary approach to materials such as clay and metal—which are foundational to the world views of both ancient West Asia and Cyprus—and their partnership with Moody Nolan, a firm renowned for their work with peer institutions and marginalized communities, make this team ideally suited for this complex project.”

Nader Tehrani, principal designer of NADAAA commented, “It’s an honor to be selected for this project, which will address the need for more diverse narratives in the displays of art from ancient West Asia and Mediterranean regions. In bringing disparate layers of the Museum’s architectural history into dialogue, the proposed design hopes to bring the formal, spatial, and material properties of these galleries into alignment with The Museum’s mission. By working in collaboration with The Met’s curatorial and construction teams, we will be able to recondition these spaces while facilitating the connection between cultures, civilizations, and geographies to tell a whole new story.”

As the founding principal of Office dA and later NADAAA, Nader Tehrani has directed over 25 years of intensive design research that addresses issues of labor, materiality, and the means and methods of the construction industry. The work of Tehrani and NADAAA has been widely published and exhibited, receiving numerous recognitions including induction into the Academy of Arts and Letters and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award. The firm’s work has been exhibited at institutions including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, and Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, and is part of permanent exhibits at the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. Tehrani is a former Head of the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is currently the Dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union in New York.

Moody Nolan is the largest African American owned and managed architecture firm in the United States, with numerous culturally significant projects including the International African American Museum, slated to open this year in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Met’s Kim Benzel, Curator in Charge of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, and Seán Hemingway, John A. and Carole O. Moran Curator in Charge of the Department of Greek and Roman Art, are leading the curatorial teams collaborating on the project. The architectural design is being led by NADAAA, with Moody Nolan as architect-of-record. The Museum’s construction team is led by Jhaelen Hernandez-Eli, Head of Construction.

The Objects

The Met’s Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art was formally established in 1956, although the Museum began acquiring art from ancient West Asia in the first decades after its founding in 1870. The department presently cares for approximately 7,000 works ranging in date from the eighth millennium B.C. through the centuries just beyond the emergence of Islam in the seventh century A.D. Objects in the collection were created by people in the area that today comprises Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean coast, Yemen, and Central Asia. From the art of some of the world’s first cities to that of great empires, the department’s holdings illustrate the beauty and craftsmanship as well as the profound interconnections, cultural and religious diversity, and lasting legacies that characterize the ancient art of this vast region. The most well-known works in the collection include the Assyrian sculpture court with its beloved winged lion and bull; important Hittite silver drinking vessels; Sumerian votive and dedicatory statues; extraordinary cast copper sculptures from Iran and Mesopotamia; colorful glazed brick panels from the Processional Way at Babylon; outstanding examples of Sasanian metalwork; and some of the earliest written records in the world in the form of clay tablets. Today, the collection is widely recognized for its global significance for the study of the art and archaeology of this region. The galleries were first opened in the early 1980s and most recently refurbished in 1999.

The Cesnola collection of Cypriot art is part of the Museum’s holdings of Greek and Roman art, which comprises more than 30,000 works ranging in date from the Neolithic period (ca. 4500 B.C.) to the time of the Roman emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in A.D. 312. Acquired by General Luigi Palma di Cesnola while he was serving as American consul in Cyprus between 1865 and 1876, these works were purchased by the then recently founded Metropolitan Museum between 1874 and 1876 and constituted its first large collection of archaeological materials. In 1879, Cesnola was named the Museum’s first Director, a position he held until his death in 1904. The Cesnola collection remains, by far, the most important and comprehensive collection of ancient Cypriot material in the Western Hemisphere. The new Cypriot galleries will feature monumental stone sculpture; bronze weapons, tools, and domestic utensils; terracotta and glass vases, lamps, and ritual paraphernalia; dedicatory figurines; and engraved sealstones and gold jewelry that testify to the quintessentially Cypriot amalgam of local traditions and elements adapted from ancient Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, who one after another, controlled the island. The Cesnola collection has been on display since 1880 in The Met’s first building in Central Park. The galleries were last renovated in 2000.

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