The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is breaking in the Breuer building next month with talks and performances by a former death row prisoner recently exonerated after spending 39 years behind bars, a 14-year-old musical prodigy and a leading diabetes researcher, among others. The second TEDxMet event on 26 September is a fitting housewarming party for the Met Breuer, which will host an ambitious music and performance programme when it officially opens in March 2016.
The Breuer building, which is not yet open to the public, “provides the perfect backdrop for this year’s celebration of gray areas and liminal spaces”, says the museum’s director Tom Campbell in a statement. Presenters at this year’s conference, which is based on the theme “the In-Between”, include the artists Bruce Conner and Dawoud Bey, the New York City Ballet principal dancer Amar Ramasar and the actress and filmmaker Isabella Rossellini.
The event, a spinoff of the popular TED Talks conference series, is part of a larger effort by the museum to shake its staid reputation and embrace the experimental. The interdisciplinary emphasis is due to continue when the Met Breuer opens next year and the jazz pianist Vijay Iyer begins a month-long residency in the lobby gallery.
The daylong performances by Iyer and his collaborators will “behave like an installation, not like a concert”, says Limor Tomer, the Met’s manager of concerts and lectures. “We’ve moved away from that with our performances in general. I’m exploring this idea of giving the audience an opportunity to experience performance the way they experience an exhibition.”
In November, the Met plans to present another ambitious interactive performance at its home on Fifth Avenue: Sonic Blossom by the Chinese performance artist Lee Mingwei. The work, which had its US premiere at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, earlier this year, sets local soloists loose in the galleries. For weeks, the singers approach lucky visitors during regular museum hours and offer spontaneous, one-on-one performances of lieder by Franz Schubert.
Timor plans to work with Sheena Wagstaff, the chairman of the museum’s modern and contemporary department, to integrate boundary-pushing performances like Sonic Blossom into the Met Breuer’s programme. “Sheena’s vision for the Breuer building includes performance very much,” Tomer says. “There are tons of things that can happen in those spaces that wouldn’t be appropriate for, say, the American sculpture court.”
The museum has also commissioned music for visitors to experience as they travel between its buildings. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams is creating a composition that incorporates sounds recorded by the public on the nine-minute walk between the Met’s Fifth Avenue building and the Breuer. Visitors will be able to download the work, Soundwalk 9:09, from the Met’s website next year.