With Big Gift and Tighter Oversight, the Met Gains Solid Ground

The Irving bequest, the largest financial gift to the Met in recent history, will establish an unrestricted art acquisitions endowment fund, as well as several endowment funds for the department of Asian Art. These funds will support acquisitions, exhibitions and publications of the arts of China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Himalayas, with a preference for Chinese decorative arts and Indian and Southeast Asian art, the Irvings’ collecting fields.

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“We’ve made really good progress,” Daniel H. Weiss, the Met’s president and chief executive, said, adding that the museum had stabilized over the last nine months. Credit Joshua Bright for The New York Times

An endowment will also support the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art, named by the Irvings in 1994. In 2004, the museum designated the Florence and Herbert Irving Asian Wing.

The Irvings on Thursday also extended their largess to Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian, giving $600 million to the two institutions to advance their research and clinical programs for cancer treatment.

In an interview in his office, Daniel H. Weiss, the Met’s president and chief executive, said the museum was turning a corner. “We’ve made really good progress,” he said, adding that the museum had stabilized over the last nine months and that “the community is in a much better place.”

Mr. Weiss said that the Met has committed to increasing transparency; to providing more detailed information to the board to ensure better financial oversight; and to improving communication between the administration and the staff.

Over the past year, the Met has been able to increase revenue and reduce costs, Mr. Weiss said. Its once money-losing retail operations, for example, are now breaking even.

The museum has cut back its special exhibitions to about 45 from about 60 and reduced its staff through buyouts and layoffs. “We were doing too many things,” Mr. Weiss said. “We’re a smaller organization than we were a year ago.”

At the same time, Mr. Weiss added, “We still have the most ambitious scholarly special-exhibition program in the world.”

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Sheena Wagstaff, the Met’s chairwoman for modern and contemporary art. Credit Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

The Met is in the process of refining a proposal to charge admissions to non-New Yorkers. And a search is underway for a new director to replace Thomas P. Campbell, who resigned under pressure in February. Mr. Weiss, to whom any new director would report under a recent management reorganization, said it was too early to discuss possible candidates or a timetable for the selection.

While the Met’s renovation of its modern and contemporary wing is on the back burner, it continues to study how best to use the Breuer building. The museum has yet to determine whether it will continue to use that satellite location after its eight-year lease is up.

While “the Breuer has made a meaningful contribution” and attendance there has been consistent with that of the Whitney Museum of Art’s best years there, Mr. Weiss said, “it’s a bigger commitment to make it run than we’d thought.”

“If we continue beyond eight years, we want to have a sustainable operating model and we haven’t done that yet,” he added. “We’re now looking at how to do that more efficiently. There is a significant amount of fund-raising involved.”

Mr. Weiss said the museum is planning to modify the Breuer exhibition program, keeping a modern and contemporary emphasis but with “a little bit more presence of the permanent collection.”

Sheena Wagstaff, the Met’s chairwoman for modern and contemporary art, said this was always part of the plan for the Breuer, which next fall will devote a floor to Abstract Expressionism and related work.

“We always intended to put the collection at Breuer at some point,” Ms. Wagstaff said. “We’ve been open now for 18 months, so we do have plans to integrate more of our collection into the Breuer program as of next year.”

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