Painting the Metropolitan Museum

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American Wing – Metropolitan Museum

Selecting paint colors for a single room can be a real challenge, but can you imagine the process of selecting paint colors for the Met?

One of the largest museums in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an estimated two million square feet of space (yes, that’s two million) – so there are a LOT of walls to paint!

The legendary purveyors of fine paint, Farrow & Ball, hosted an early morning breakfast this week at the Metropolitan to launch some new colors. After breakfast our group had a private tour in a nearly-empty building that offered insights into the complex process of selecting paint colors at this outstanding museum.

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A few days before they officially launch nine new paint colours, the UK-based Farrow & Ball sent the ‘big guns’ from their US team to unveil their nine new colors: the ever-delightful Eileen McComb – Vice President Brand Engagement, and Christine Haney – Trade Marketing Executive. Together Eileen and Christine hosted a seamlessly delightful early breakfast at the Metropolitan Museum for a fantastic group of 35 New York designers and architects followed by an insiders’ tour of the Museum.

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Farrow & Ball is a widely recognized and coveted brand of fine paint and wallpaper products among the design cognoscenti; their products have been created by hand for seventy years in Dorset, England. They utilize the finest available ingredients and age-old methods to create paints that have rich resin binders and extremely high levels of pigment to create rich and immersive colors no matter how quiet and subtle, or rich and bold they might be.

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So what is new with this old company?

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Once every three years Farrow & Ball re-examines the entire collection – adding nine new shades and retiring nine others — to maintain a highly edited 132 colours while archiving the formulas to ensure the availability of every colour they have ever made. This year’s colours have curiously literary names like “Shadow White”; “Drop Cloth”; “Peignoir” and “Yearbridge Green”.

 

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Exhibit Designer Dan Kershaw in the American Wing – Metropolitan Museum

While I enjoyed breakfast with my colleagues and the presentation of the new colours, the ‘main event’ was an informative and experiential tour of a series of exhibitions and installations by Exhibit Designer Extraordinaire  Dan Kershaw.

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American Wing – Metropolitan Museum

While Exhibit Designer Extraordinaire is NOT his official title it could be! After 27 years at the museum, Kershaw has had his hand in the creation of countless exhibits and installations, manipulations, re-considerations, re-installations, and helping to select paint colors for both permanent and temporary exhibitions throughout the Metropolitan Museum. His sensitivities to the art objects and the viewer experience are remarkable and influential.

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American Wing – Metropolitan Museum

As inspirational as it was informative, the whirlwind tour the incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic Dan Kershaw led also provided the curious group with insights into the process of working, and re-working installations at the Met. Kershaw works as part of an often impassioned and informed team of curators, exhibit designers, museum executives, and outside color consultants like Donald Kaufman (who created the paints for the 27 galleries of the American Wing) to make the endless number of decisions involved:

“The selection of wall colors for wall paint alone can be a highly complex process, balancing the artwork with its history, showing works to their best advantage in each context (some galleries have daylight, others do not), the transition between galleries, this is without including into the process that we all have our own distinct culturally induced color influences; curators have their own personal heritage and strong biases, and so do I.”

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The New Exhibit “Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age”

 

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And then after the arm wrestling over colors is over, a group of talented painters prep and painstakingly paint the walls – millions and millions of square feet of walls.

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