#IndiaAtTheMet: Rock stars bringing on more Asia, more India to New York's Met museum

New York: Rachel Gin, 8, came back from school with a red paper lantern in hand. She told her mom how at art class, her teacher told her about the year of the monkey and all the other animals in the Chinese calendar. Rachel’s mom is from the Philippines, her dad is from China.

#IndiaAtTheMet: Rock stars bringing on more Asia, more India to New Yorks Met museum

The rockstar curator from across the pond - Sheena Wagstaff

“We’ve never been to China, all the family we want to be close to are here,” says dad Greg Gin, a second generation Chinese from the West Coast now settled in a New Jersey suburb heavily populated with Asians.

Seeing how keen his kids were to get a little deeper into Chinese New Year, and how cold it still was in the second week of February in New York, he decided he won’t hoof it to uptown Manhattan and instead logged on to the the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York’s Twitter handle @metmuseum.

It worked out just fine. Greg’s kids saw all the visuals listed below in real time as one of the world’s great encyclopedic museums does an epic tweak of how it relates to a staggeringly different demographic in America.

For every one person who actually walks into the Met, there are 5 others like Greg consuming its rich visuals and depth online.

"It's my indigenous cultural iconography in the cloud," says Divya Srinivasan, who came to America as an 8th grader and is now mom to two girls aged 8 and 10. "I wish I had my Tanjores and Raja Ravi Varma paintings from home in Chennai but I don't. Museums like the Met allow me to share a semblance of a prayer room from my past with my kids; it keeps them off the mindless junk on telly too," she says.

Srinivasan is looking forward to the 'Encountering Vishnu' experience at the Met.

5 virtual visitors for every walk-in

For a 146 year old giant, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has an awfully big number of people walking through its doors looking into their smartphones - 9 out of 10 people come in with a mobile device.

About 6.3 million people visit the Met, and online audience is something like 32 million a year in fiscal year 2015, according to published figures.

Given all these numbers and the sweep of history it holds within its majestic walls, the New York Met Museum - one of the oldest art institutions in the United States is welcoming an epic transformation in two ways.

One is the new wing currently being designed by architect David Chipperfield, which when completed will let visitors walk in from Central Park and be stunned by maybe a digital installation…

Met's mission at Met Breuer

The other, more urgent one is the new wing - Met Breuer, the Met’s new outpost dedicated to modern and contemporary art, in the former Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue.

Rock star curator Sheena Wagstaff, who left her job at Tate to move to New York, and most often described in glowing superlatives like “high octane” and “thought leader”, has quite a job on her hands. So does Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Met and the moving force behind its thoroughly engaging transmedia outreach. Sreenivasan has just capped nine months of work and a complicated last few weeks of rushed maneuvers to relaunch the Met website. "For the last five years, we have been operating two websites—one for desktop and another for mobile. We now have one, unified site," says Sreenivasan.

“For the first time you’ll be able to enter 5,000 years’ worth of human creativity from the portal of the modern — from the now — and go backwards. That’s pretty amazing,” Wagstaff tells Ariella Budick of Financial Times on the Met's reboot.

“We still have a tendency to regard history as a long linear process,” says Sheena Wagstaff, who is heading up the Met’s expanded modern and contemporary department, in an interview with artsy.

“However, it is our intention within The Met Breuer program to reconcile this notion with the idea that history is an aggregate of simultaneous narratives whose significance morphs according to the time that they are encountered.”


“We are living in the era of big art history”

#MetKids, made for, with and by kids

Becoming modern: The Met's mission at the Breuer building

The Financial Times explains what an intricate and daunting job the former chief curator of Tate has: “Wagstaff’s invocation of expertise points to the paradoxical question that the Met faces as it tries to fill its gaps: how does an encyclopedic museum maintain its status in the age of the Wiki? While institutions like MoMA and the Whitney achieve depth by narrowing their scope, the Met is the Britannica of art institutions, boiling down all of global art into a carefully edited, purportedly authoritative compendium.”

The Los Angeles Times reports on initiatives that will broaden the museum's audiences: “A program that gave away free museum memberships to individuals who signed up for a New York City identification has brought in 35,000 new members from far-reaching parts of the city. Likewise, #MetKids, launched last year, has helped make the collection more accessible to children through online and video programming.”

Courtesy Pew Research

Courtesy Pew Research

What does the immigration wave mean for the Met?

Increasingly, the most important book for museum directors is national census as the clamor for diversity in art and staffing at museums blends with an immigration wave that has totally changed what America's neighborhoods look like. Asian Americans like Greg Gin and Divya Srinivasan in the examples above are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. If you dive deeper into the data, you'll find Indian Americans lead all other groups by a significant margin in their levels of income and education.

In 2010 the Centre for the Future of Museums reported that minorities made up just 21% of museum visitors, compared with over a third of America’s population. In 30 years, according to the Census Bureau, minorities will make up half the population.

But engaging minority audiences is not easy. When Michelle Obama opened the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, she said: “There are so many kids in this country who look at museums and concert halls and other cultural places, and think to themselves: ‘Well, that’s not a place for me.’”

That's what's at stake in great museums everywhere.

To put those numbers in context, better education and appetite for art go well together and museums hold up a mirror to immigrants about where they fit in a wider world. For precisely this reason, Asians in America are more likely to be museum goers. The Met's digital outreach explores how art can be a companion for the young, both authentic and intriguing - which goes beyond what electronic entertainment can supply and yet be contained within youth's favored devices.

Useful link: Pew Research on the rise of Asian Americans

In the immediate context of Indian artists and their work being unleashed with such zest on a New York spring season, Indian art and artists certainly need much better platforms, both at home and abroad. Even a rough estimate shows that the United States has thousands of exhibition spaces compared with barely more than 20 in India. With roughly half of the world under 20 years of age and so caught up with “experiences” how do you engage with them and bring them closer to diverse art and culture?

More India at a great museum

Nita and Mukesh Ambani and the Reliance Foundation are supporting the Nasreen Mohamedi retrospective at the Met in an effort to boost Indian art globally, it means the world gets to see more Indian art, artists, themes and collections in the Met, one of the world's great museums at a time when Asians are more mobile than at any other time in history. For the Mohamedi exhibition, the largest such retrospective of an Indian artist's work in the United States, to become the toast of New York's art ecosystem, three threads wove together: Two years ago, an exhibition of her works made waves at the Kiran Nadar Museum in New Delhi which got Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia very interested. By this time, Sheena Wagstaff had travelled across the pond and taken over at the Met while the Reliance Foundation upped its push for Indian art and culture in the global public square. All this has come together this spring season. Upending the concept of a traditional art installation, Harvard professor and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer will be will highlighting his full body of work with performances titled Relation that will run continuously throughout museum hours. He will perform solo, with other artists, and will also curate performances by fellow musicians and performers.

Iyer's latest work - A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke is inspired by Nasreen Mohamedi. Iyer connected with the spare rigor of Mohamedi’s pencil-drawn patterns, the silence between her delicate lines, reports Vulture on the Met's new groove.

Artists who will join Iyer include Rafiq Bhatia, Michelle Boulé, Matt Brewer, Teju Cole, Stephan Crump, Miranda Cuckson, Liberty Ellman, Amir ElSaffar, Patricia Franceschy, Marcus Gilmore, Graham Haynes, Okkyung Lee, Steve Lehman, Roopa Mahadevan, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mat Maneri, Nitin Mitta, Adam O'Farrill, Elena Pinderhughes, Prasanna, Mark Shim, Jen Shyu, Wadada Leo Smith, Tyshawn Sorey, Tyshawn Sorey Trio, Becca Stevens, Anjna Swaminathan, Rajna Swaminathan, Craig Taborn, and Mark Turner.

For museum directors, the job of unifying themes of diversity, art and context has become more demanding as visitor numbers and exhibition spaces have grown while public spending on the arts has been cut. But the Met boss plays it cool. Take a listen to what the museum's youngest visitors have to say about Thomas Campbell:

You'll hear Campbell use this word "accessible" a lot as the Met redesigns its relationship to a phenomenal advantage - it's relationship with Central Park.

Though the Met is within Central Park, the museum's only entrances reside on Fifth Avenue. That is set to change, and when the renovation of the main Met is complete, you can plunge in from Heckscher playground or the zoo into 5000 years of human creativity and choose from a moveable feast of experiences.

“One of the great opportunities of the Met is its unique position,” Campbell says often.

There is no other museum in Central Park - one of the coolest hangouts in town, which the Met wants to be too.

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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2016 03:38:35 IST

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