In a decision eagerly awaited by the art world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday announced that David Breslin would become its curator in charge of Modern and Contemporary Art, indicating that he will play an important role in the new wing now under development for that department.
Breslin, who currently serves as the director of curatorial initiatives at the Whitney Museum of American Art and was co-curator of the 2022 Whitney Biennial, is expected to start at the Met later this fall. He replaces Sheena Wagstaff, who announced in May that she was leaving after 10 years in the position.
Breslin will have an important role in how the Met defines the art of our time at a moment when museums all over the country are rethinking the canon and making space for more women and people of color.
“What are the compelling narratives, what are the new stories that need to be told, how do we build on the work that’s happened at the museum?” Breslin, 43, said in a telephone interview. He added that he looks forward to connecting the new wing to the museum’s historical departments, and that he starts “with an appreciation that all art was contemporary once.”
At a time of heightened sensitivity around issues of equity and inclusion, some are bound to question the Met’s decision to make a white man the face of contemporary art at the country’s largest museum. This awareness is particularly acute at institutions that have had internal reckonings with allegations of racism, as the Met did in 2020.
“It is our responsibility and commitment to build an institution and a curatorial program of equity and inclusion, which was well reflected in this process,” said Max Hollein, the Met’s director.
“He has deep experience in many areas,” Hollein added of Breslin, “working with artists in museums, in New York and especially also in building and interpreting collections, managing curatorial teams, and creating an institutional vision and programs that expand both audiences and perspectives.”
The $500 million new wing — which calls for 80,000 square feet of galleries and public space — last year was named after the trustee Oscar L. Tang and his wife, Agnes Hsu‐Tang, in recognition of their $125 million donation, the largest capital gift in the Met’s history. The Met previously had to put the project on hold because of financial problems. Breslin will work closely with the new wing’s architect, Frida Escobedo.
“This will for sure be the central project,” Hollein said, “and David will be in the middle of it.”
Breslin, who with Adrienne Edwards organized the most recent Whitney Biennial — a portion of which is still open through Oct. 16 — previously served as the Whitney’s curator and director of the collection. Before joining that museum in 2016, he worked at the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston and at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass.
As the Whitney’s first director of curatorial initiatives, Breslin helped develop new programs, including an Indigenous Artists Working Group. As a curator, he has worked on shows such as “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections From the Whitney’s Collection, 1940-2017” and “David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night.”
Breslin earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College, a master’s in art history from Williams College and a Ph.D. in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University. His doctoral dissertation, “I Want to Go to the Future: Jenny Holzer and the End of a Century,” was informed by his experience working in Holzer’s studio.