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Rockefeller Wing renovation by wHY

The Met announces $70 million renovation of Africa, Oceania and Americas galleries

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has selected Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY to design a major overhaul of its wing for arts produced in Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

The Met revealed plans today for the $70 million (£54 million) transformation of the Micheal C Rockefeller Wing, where it hosts its Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas (AAOA) department.

Yantrasast, who runs New York architecture firm wHy, will update the galleries in the 40,000-square-foot wing on the southern side of the Fifth Avenue museum. The aim is to better showcase the collection of arts and artefacts created in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, and North, Central and South America.

The Met selects Yantrasast's "extraordinary design"

"Within AAOA alone there is the potential for highlighting parallels and contrasts that consider how societies across hundreds of cultures, five continents, and 5,000 years have addressed issues of authorship, patronage, trade, governance, state ideology, and ancestral commemoration," said Met director Max Hollein in a statement.

"This major reinstallation of a core part of The Met's global collection and the extraordinary design by Kulapat Yantrasast will be a manifestation of our ability to further advance the understanding, appreciation and contextualisation of the world's most significant cultures."

Rockefeller Wing renovation by wHY

Comprising 11,000 works across various disciplines and dating as far back as 3,000 BC, the AAOA collection was started in 1893 when The Met was gifted Mexican stone sculpture and Peruvian ceramics.

However, the department only truly came to fruition in 1969, after philanthropist and former US vice president Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller donated his fine-arts survey of non-Western art traditions. The collection, which included African and Oceanic works that were not yet represented in the museum, marked the start of the new wing.

Named after Rockefeller's son, anthropologist Michael C Rockefeller, the department has since tripled in size due to other gifts.

Gallery design to evoke "architectural vernaculars" of regions

The galleries – which are currently organised geographically – will be reimagined in the update to draw on the architectural traits of the regions, according to AAOA curator Alisa LaGamm.

"Our thinking for the new galleries centres on the importance of reframing each of the specific regions of the world represented," she said.

"We will be seeking to illuminate their artistic brilliance by invoking a sense of place through referencing architectural vernaculars relevant to each segment, while also tethering these aspects to historical movements."

Few details of Yantrasast's design have been revealed so far, apart from a series of renderings. These show a curved, white ribbed ceiling covering gallery spaces and stone-like partitions to showcase artworks.

There will be plenty of open space for the display of large statues, while a slanted glass wall will also be maintained.

Renovation will be "timely civic contribution" to New York City

Daniel H Weiss, president of the New York City museum, described the project as an initiative to adequately represent the heritage of the local population in its collections.

"Its expansive and diverse character uniquely resonates with our global city," he said. "Our Africa and Americas collections alone represent the heritage of a quarter of the US population and half of New York City's residents."

Rockefeller Wing renovation by wHY

"The renovation of this suite of galleries will at once make a unique and timely civic contribution to our community and immeasurably enrich and deepen appreciation of a vast swath of the world's artistic dynamism," Weiss added.

The Met is slated to begin the Rockefeller Wing renovation in late 2020, with completion expected in the following year. The project forms part of wider improvement plans across the museum, including the renovation of the British decorative arts and sculpture galleries, the Modern Wing, and updates to the European Paintings galleries.

Earlier this year, the museum also announced that it will vacate its Marcel Breuer-designed building, providing a temporary home for the Frick collection during renovation work. This move sparked suggestions that The Met will revive its plans for a David Chipperfield-designed extension.

Yantrasast – who was mentored by Tadao Ando – has a growing portfolio of major arts and cultural projects, including a new building for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth with the Japanese architect.

With his firm wHY, which he founded in 2003, he has also worked on the Michigan's Grand Rapids Art Museum, exhibition spaces at the Art Institute of Chicago, and a new gallery for R & Company in Manhattan's TriBeCa neighbourhood.

Renderings are by wHY.