In an attempt to modernize how visitors experience its 19th-century building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is planning to turn the large store off its Great Hall into an 11,500-square-foot gallery for its blockbuster Costume Institute exhibitions and to transform an entrance underneath the main staircase into a retail space and restaurant that will be open to the public even when the museum is closed.
“How visitors and local communities interact with cultural institutions has changed dramatically over the past few years,” Max Hollein, the museum’s director and chief executive, said in a letter to his staff on Monday. “This project presents an opportunity for us to invest even more in the visitor experience.”
Fund-raising for the effort — estimated at more than $50 million — is to be led by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue and global editorial director of Condé Nast. Wintour has spearheaded the Costume Institute — which in 2014 was renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Center — and overseen the annual Met Gala, a major fund-raiser for the Costume Institute.
“This project is in its very early stages,” Wintour said in a statement to The Times, “but I am always dedicated to helping the museum and of course the Costume Institute in any way I can.”
Called “the Great Hall Gallery Project,” the renovation represents the latest example on the part of cultural institutions all over the country to make their physical plants more practical, accessible and inviting.
The Met hopes to address the overcrowding caused by the well-attended Costume Institute shows each spring and to allow for those exhibitions to have more preparation time and longer runs. This year’s “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty show,” for example, had to end in time in the Tisch Galleries on the second floor to allow for the installation of its “Manet/Degas” show, Hollein said. The rest of the year, the new exhibition space will be used for other shows.
“Placing this special exhibition area in the Great Hall allows us to provide better visitor service,” Hollein said.
The museum is also seeking to reinvigorate its plaza entrance at 83rd Street and Fifth Avenue, by essentially swapping the public and staff cafeterias and creating an eating space that invites the public in at ground level.
“It will create an even more accessible institution for those who thought the stairs sends a certain signal,” Hollein said. “It will welcome people in a positive and open way.”
The project is to be completed by 2026 in two phases, starting with construction of the new first floor exhibition gallery, followed by renovation of the lower level Plaza entrance, and dining and retail spaces.
Naming gifts for the new exhibition space are expected but have yet to be announced.
“Symbolically, the new gallery will reflect fashion’s central role within the museum,” Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute, said in an email. “Fashion — or the dressed body — is the only form of artistic expression that connects all curatorial departments, and the Great Hall project will provide more opportunities for cross-departmental collaborations, underscoring the notion that fashion is the connecting thread between the museum’s collections.”
The Met said that it has taken into account its other major capital projects, including the reopening of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing in 2025, the Tang Wing for Modern and contemporary art, and the Ancient Near Eastern and Cypriot galleries.
During construction, current dining and retail areas are likely to be relocated, with staff transferred to temporary spaces, Hollein explained in his staff letter, and no layoffs are expected.
“Of course, this work invites many questions, many of which are still being worked through,” he added, “and we will keep you updated as details are finalized.”