For the 150 year anniversary of the Met, Roman and Williams completed and have opened their six-year-long makeover of the iconic British Galleries which payes homage to the wealth of classic archived items the musuem has collected over the years.
Robin Standefer was surrounded by teapots. Many of them had classic blue and white patterns; one was shaped like a pineapple. She and her fellow Roman and Williams design principal (and husband) Stephen Alesch were on one of their many trips deep inside The Met’s storeroom to go through objects as part of their commission to redesign the British Galleries for the museum’s 150th anniversary. The Met planned to only display two of the teapots, but Standefer argued to show off dozens of them.
“You start to fall in love with so many of these different teapots,” Standefer says. “It’s a story about mass market, a story about people drinking tea, and it’s beautiful to find ways when you create an exhibition to tell that story.”
She thinks Roman and Williams won the prestigious commission because they displayed a fascination with the objects themselves, whereas some of the competitors might have been entranced more by the space itself. During the course of six years, the duo reinvented the architecture of 10 galleries and built the cases, pedestals, platforms and other items needed to properly display the nearly 700 works made between 1500 and 1900. The project had them traveling to Britain to look at country houses, studying other galleries and exploring the storeroom.
“It has been one of my greatest joys, my greatest privileges, to be able to [spend time in the storeroom],” she says. “And to see the objects in that simplistic environment, where they are protected but in a place where you get to be so intimate with them and look at them in a very pragmatic way and start to understand how that could translate to a public audience. It was so extraordinary, and we did it for years.”
As a result of her efforts, the 11,000 square feet devoted to British decorative arts, design and sculpture tell a narrative of industrialism, entrepreneurship and utility. In addition to bringing the Cassiobury stair, a masterwork of Baroque carving, back to function, a highlight is the two 10-foot cases that explore the tea trade with Standefer’s beloved pots. “It became this massive punctuation, this beautiful, almost theatrical moment,” she says of designing it. “This was a dream project because as all paintings certainly tell stories, they don’t tell them in the same way that an object does.”
Photography by: Oskar Proctor