New Logo, New Met

The opening of the Met Breuer next month catalyzes a period of expansion for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in physical space and in collection. During its eight-year lease of Marcel Breuer’s building on 75th and Madison Avenue (formerly the Whitney), the museum will build a much-needed new home for its modern and contemporary collections in the main building at 1000 Fifth Avenue.

It is no secret that for much of its history, the Met has not prioritized collecting contemporary art. Only in the past few years has it bolstered its curatorial staff and collecting in this area (see more in the New Yorker). With improved gallery space to display its collection, stronger holdings in modern and contemporary art will surely follow.

Everyone will benefit from the Met’s having an outstanding contemporary art collection, including the art. As Director Tom Campbell has emphasized, the museum’s great strength is five thousand years of art with which modern and contemporary works can be put in dialogue, and into which they can be placed in historical context. Any works of contemporary art that come into the Met’s collection will be enhanced by joining the 1.5M objects that span both human history and the globe.

In conjunction with its geographical expansion to Madison Avenue and renewed commitment to collecting contemporary art, the Met is seeking to project a simpler, friendlier image to its visitors. Its updated graphic identity, which includes new visitor maps, brochures, institutional typefaces, and a lightning rod of a new logo, officially rolls out on March 1.

The Met logos, old and new.

The previous M logo, with its delicate serifs swirling off into small circles, is laid atop a circle-in-a-square cut by three lines. The design, based on a woodcut by da Vinci’s math teacher, Fra Luca Pacioli, clearly evokes the art historical past. It also perfectly captures the complex, multilayered spirit of the institution — the feeling that it is a place where discoveries are made. The new logo, by contrast, lacks a sense of historical or institutional context.

My personal collection of Met buttons.

The Met should strive to develop holdings in the art of the present that are equal in strength and quality to the rest of its collection. As an institution that continues to grow and progress, it should also modernize the way it interacts with its audiences.

However, by adopting a more contemporary, and I believe more generic, logo, is it trying to shift away from its wonderfully complex identity? The museum’s decision to alter its most iconic symbol appears to represent an attempt to align itself with its exclusively modern and contemporary peers, rather than embrace its unique institutional strengths.

I had the privilege of working at the Met after college and the distinct pleasure of losing myself in the galleries on a regular basis. Although it didn’t take me long to learn how to navigate the building, there was invariably a new experience to be had during each exploration. You don’t “do the Met” in a day; you can barely do it in a lifetime.

New logo or old, the Met will always be a place where one can delight in getting lost.

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