Birth of a Nation


Last October the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its new and expanded Islamic galleries to widespread critical acclaim—“as intelligent as it is resplendent,” Holland Cotter rhapsodized about the renovation in a New York Times review titled “A Cosmopolitan Trove of Exotic Beauty.” Fast on the heels of this triumph, the museum now presents an even greater one in the twenty-six galleries for painting, sculpture, and decorative arts of its now fully-renovated American Wing. Begun seven years ago, the project has unfolded in three phases, with the re-installation of Neo-Classical art completed in 2007, the redesign of the Charles Engelhard Court in 2009, and now the wonderful web of new galleries.

The Met has a long history of supporting homegrown art. The first American painting entered its collection in 1873, and the acquisition of American art was strongly supported by such trustee-painters as Frederic Edwin Church and John Frederick Kensett. But there wasn’t an American Wing until 1924 or a department of American painting until the 1930s; and only in 1980 did the museum open its galleries of American painting and sculpture. Designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, those galleries, although a welcome addition to the museum, had certain limitations. The space was claustrophobic...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author


Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, is president emeritus of Georgetown University.