Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, who at 38 was the youngest architect to design the Serpentine Pavilion in 2018, has been selected to design the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new $500 million modern and contemporary art wing, the museum announced Sunday.
“This is a very important order,” museum director Max Hollein said in a telephone interview. “This collection will continue to grow more significantly than any other area.”
“She is a strong voice in architectural discourse,” he added of Escobedo. “She creates very modern buildings based on the contemporary canon.”
Escobedo, 42, is an unexpected choice for such an important assignment, given that she is relatively young, mostly designing temporary structures and not widely known. But she said she felt undaunted and excited about the task.
“I love challenges,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Mexico City. “One of the dream commissions 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 for it to connect with the rest of the museum, connect with the park, connect with the city, and also represent New York’s cultural diversity.”
The art world is keeping a close eye on the new wing given that the Met has lagged behind in this subject area and its current space for contemporary art has long been seen as problematic. The museum was also forced to shelve the project, announcing it before it had raised enough funds.
Last fall, the project finally received the major gift it had been longing for when longtime trustee Oscar L. Tang and his wife Agnes Xu-Tang, an archaeologist and art historian, donated $125 million to the wing, the largest capital gift ever. in the history of the museum. The wing would be named after the Tans for at least 50 years.
The museum was considering four other architectural firms: Ensamble Studio, Lacaton & Vassal, SO-IL and David Chipperfield Architects, whose earlier project had skyrocketed to $800 million. In a tweet that was later deleted, Chipperfield wrote that he was “sad to end our 7 year relationship” with the Met and congratulated Escobedo, wishing her “all the best for the project”.
At a time when the cultural world is becoming increasingly sensitive to issues of justice, Escobedo seems to represent a significant step forward for a woman of color. But Daniel H. Weiss, the museum’s president and chief executive, said it didn’t affect the Met’s decision. “It’s great that she brings variety,” he said, “but that was not a selection criterion.”
Weiss added that Escobedo was the right person to design “an iconic building that speaks to the art of our time” and that he expects 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 and then received a master’s degree in art, design and public domain from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
For Escobedo, who opened her architecture studio in Mexico City in 2006, the Met will be her biggest cultural project to date, and of a very different order. Her previous work has included several pavilions and other temporary structures, such as those for the Lisbon Architecture Triennial, the Chicago Architecture Biennale, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Her Serpentine Pavilion in London, chosen by Serpentine Gallery Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist, featured a partially enclosed courtyard framing a triangular pool, with gray concrete tile lattice walls and a curved mirrored canopy.
Her other notable projects include the expansion of La Tallera Siqueiros in Cuernavaca (2012), Mexico, a museum, workshop and artists’ residence which was the home and studio of the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. She also designed the renovation of the Boca Chica Hotel (2008), a popular vacation spot for Hollywood celebrities in the 1950s, and the El Eco Pavilion (2010), a special installation designed for the El Eco Experimental Museum.
She is currently working – with New York-based Handel Architects – on Ray Harlem, a joint venture with the National Black Theatre, which is to include residential, retail and concert space.
In 2019, Escobedo was made an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and her studio was named one of the “World’s 100+ Best Architectural Firms” by DOMUS architecture magazine.
She has taught at Columbia, Harvard and Rice Universities and currently teaches at Yale University.
The Met project will create 80,000 square feet of galleries and public spaces, giving the museum the opportunity to tell the story of contemporary art more fully than in the past. In addition to contemporary work, Tang Wing will include 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 vary in height, scale and exposure to light. At a time when museums like the Museum of Modern Art are reimagining the representation of art, including offering multiple perspectives and juxtaposing different genres, the new wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art will also seek to expand the narrative, Hollein said: “Our representation of art will be transcultural. “.