In 1969 the Metropolitan Museum of Art was dragged screaming into the contemporary world of its time by the controversial exhibit, HARLEM ON MY MIND.
In April 1967, at age 36, Thomas Hoving became the youngest director in the Met’s history. Hoving had a vision that called for blockbuster exhibits, he advertised with huge flaunting banners hung from the museum’s Fifth Avenue portico front. Hoving was the former park’s commissioner under John Lindsey and he earned the title “The Clown Prince of Fun City.” He felt that “great art should be shown with great excitement”. Thomas reinvented the museum gift shop — it became a huge attraction. He grew the museum, merchandising until it was bringing in more than $1million a year.
Allon Schoener, Visual-arts Director of the New York State Council on the Arts, was hired by Hoving as the Curator of Harlem On My Mind. Schoener was famous for his unprecedented use of multimedia, such as blown-up photographs, film projections, and amplified sounds. Schoener was selected by Hoving, as a way to shake up the museum’s flatness with a fresh, innovative exhibition and it did shake up the museum.
The Harlem On My Mind Exhibit opened the Metropolitan Museum of Art to charges of cultural racism.
Harlem artists wanted to be included in the Met’s exhibition, they would have to challenge the Museum’s standing policy of artists of color could not exhibit. Under the group SPIRAL, Romare Bearden (left) and Norman Lewis (right) tried to negotiate with the Met for inclusion in the Harlem Show — they failed. Spiral gave birth to the BECC.
The BECC voted to picket and even though they changed the world, they did not get into the Met. But before it was all over there was a Cultural Revolution.
Things started to calm down for the Met in 1971, long enough for them to redesign their logo.
M, a masterwork from a woodcut by Luca Pacioli, a collaborator of Leonardo da Vinci’s has kept the Met’s image on solid footing. It has been 47 years since the, Harlem On My Mind,windstorm and the Met is once again in the center of controversy. This time it started with their desire to Change their logo, thus far most people hate it. “Who knew a logo could cause such controversy?” – Robin Pogrebin of The New York Times
The list of protests go on, but if you step away and give sway to history you will see the Met is a cultural epicenter of change.
NEXT : The Met Breuer – Unfinished: Where do you go from here?