The doors of the Metropolitan Opera House are wide open to visual artists," says Gallery Met Director Dodie Kazanjian. "There's an excitement surrounding the new art program at the Met. Artists want to participate."
If the roster of artists who have created new work for the Met over the past year and a half is any indication, Kazanjian's assessment is an understatement. Last November, for example, artists, curators, critics, and others from the worlds of culture and media sipped champagne and took in Hansel and Gretel–not Humperdinck's opera, which would have its new-production premiere a few weeks later, but an exhibition in collaboration with The New Yorker. Inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, John Currin created a glamorous vision of the story's stepmother. Jules Feiffer's picture focused on the trail of breadcrumbs. Roz Chast produced a characteristically caustic series, and William Wegman had cast his Weimaraners as the titular siblings. Many of the works on display were also featured in a portfolio published in The New Yorker. John Macfarlane's beautiful costume designs for the Hansel production were on display in a separate show in the Met's Founders Hall. To mount two contemporary art exhibitions in support of a new production–and to see some of that work in The New Yorker–makes the Met unique among opera houses today.
In addition to creating partnerships with such estimable institutions, Kazanjian is nurturing relationships with artists themselves. One of the most recent art-related developments at the Met is the creation of enormous, original banners, designed by contemporary artists, to hang on the building's façade. In February, Barnaby Furnas's Final Flood III, a vibrant, abstract seascape, was unveiled on the front of the house to announce the Met's new production of Britten's Peter Grimes. An original piece by renowned artist Francesco Clemente, timed to coincide with the Met premiere of Satyagraha, Philip Glass's opera about Gandhi's early years developing his nonviolence philosophy, debuted in March. George Condo's banner, connected to La Fille du Régiment, will follow later this month. And inside Gallery Met, a solo exhibition of Chuck Close's four decades-spanning series of portraits of Glass is another way to celebrate the Satyagraha premiere. It's the thirdsolo show in the space, following Stage Fright, a much praised exhibition by Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca.
Designed by architect Lindy Roy, the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met opened in September 2006 with Heroines, an exhibition of works inspired by the new productions of the 2006–07 season. The show announced the arrival of a new gallery space devoted to what Kazanjian calls "the cross-pollination that exists among all the artistic disciplines today." Such significant art-world figures as Cecily Brown, Richard Prince, and David Salle, among others, contributed work for this first show. An auction to raise money for new productions was subsequently held on the Met stage, with the lots also displayed in Gallery Met. The sale of works by John Chamberlain, Chuck Close, William Kentridge, Cindy Sherman, and others raised nearly $2 million.
"Our hope is to invite the next David Hockney or Marc Chagall, whose works have been shown here, to design scenery for the Met," says General Manager Peter Gelb. "The visual arts have long been an integral part of this opera house. And today, we are continuing this alliance. We are reminding people that the Met doesn't exist in isolation. It occupies an important place in the larger cultural conversation."