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$65-Million Naming Opportunity: Groundbreaking for Metropolitan Museum’s “David H. Koch Plaza” (with video)

In an after-the-fact groundbreaking ceremony, postponed due to Hurricane Sandy, VIPs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and government officials belatedly assembled yesterday to speech-ify and celebrate the museum’s in-construction, revamped entrance plaza, to be named for its $65-million benefactor, Met trustee David Koch:

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In the Metropolitan Museum’s Great Hall: David Koch, sole funder of the Met’s reconceived plaza that will bear his name, flanked by Met president Emily Rafferty, left, and trustee Shelby White, right
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Here’s how the Met’s two new fountains (as conceived by Fluidity Design Consultants) are expected to look at the plaza’s reopening, projected for Fall 2014:

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Rendering courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here’s what what the area looks like now:

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Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Famous (or, in some quarters, infamous) for his megabucks contributions to conservative Republican causes, Koch originally was not to be accorded a naming plaque at the plaza, according to Carol Vogel‘s NY Times report about Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony. But “officials there [at the Met] have changed their minds,” Vogel observed, without explanation. (You’ll hear Koch express his gratitude for this recognition in my CultureGrrl Video, below.)

My view on dedicating the “David H. Koch Plaza”: If $65 million doesn’t entitle you to naming rights (whatever your political persuasion or views on global warming), what does?

Koch’s name is also on the extensively renovated former New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. With its upgrades underwritten by the billionaire’s $100-million benefaction, the David H. Koch Theater lost one of its two prime tenants—the financially shaky New York City Opera—soon after it reopened. A major goal of the renovation had been to improve the hall’s acoustics in consideration of the opera company’s needs.

One highly impolitic politician, who was the last in the line-up of speakers at the Met, couldn’t resist getting in a dig at Koch before digging the dirt with him outside. In an astonishing did-he-really-say-that moment, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer quipped:

I never thought I’d see in my lifetime Manhattan liberals praising David Koch. Well, it’s $65 million!

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Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer at the Met’s ceremony
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

If Stinger’s zinger made me cringe, it must also have unsettled some of those who had assembled to thank the donor.

I had another did-he-really-say-that moment when Met director Tom Campbell indicated that London-based architect Rick Mather, whose two kiosks for the plaza had been scrapped in the face of community concerns, wasn’t (as I had previously been told by a Met spokesperson) totally benched from the project after all. He would design benches. Isn’t the architect of a new wing at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and a planned new wing for the Peabody Essex Museum slightly over-qualified for benches? (Will the Met will make it up to him on some future project?)

For more information about the Met’s plaza plans, read the detailed press release, here.

Somewhat beside-the-point, since ground had long since been broken, the dirt-shoveling part of the program was pretty lame (as you will soon see). Unfortunately, they hadn’t arranged a return engagement of the soulful singing group Select Blendz, who had enlivened the plaza when I last shot a video there.

The entertainment, such as it was, came from the Met’s senior vice president for external affairs, Harold Holzer, who coached his hardhatted cast by using everything he had learned about directing from Steven Spielberg on the set of “Lincoln” (for which Holzer, a distinguished Lincoln scholar in his spare time, was a credited consultant).

Near the end of my video clip, after listening to excerpts from speeches by Campbell and Koch, you’ll hear Harold exhort the digging dignitaries: “Throw it [the shoveled soil] at Harold!”

an ArtsJournal blog