This week we celebrated the completion of the rebuilding of the Met's extraordinary American Wing, and in doing so unequivocally acknowledged the importance of the arts of this nation to the Metropolitan Museum. Although there were painters, sculptors, and architects among our founding trustees, and the first American painting was acquired in 1873, it wasn't until 1924 that there was an American Wing devoted to the arts of the colonial and Federal periods, and not until 1980 that there were galleries devoted to American painting and sculpture. Now, in 2012, we finally have an American Wing really worthy of America's great artistic heritage. These collections have never looked better and I know our visitors will enjoy seeing old favorites and discovering new surprises.
Of course, it is important to remember that the Metropolitan Museum itself is a part of this nation's history. In 1870, in the wake of the Civil War, it was the collective pride of private citizens that established this museum. They found their national unity in an encyclopedic museum—one that could represent the diverse traditions of an immigrant culture and place America within the larger world. The result is the Met we know today—one in which our superb collection of American art is seen within the full scope of history and for which the dedication of our public has never wavered. There is no greater testament to that commitment than these new galleries. I hope you will come and enjoy them soon.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg attended the opening dinner for the New American Wing Galleries: