The arts is an area that used to be overlooked. Even students were occasionally denied its programs in school—music, drama, and art classes always seemed to get cut from budgets before anything else. But in recent years, people have been working to bring more attention to the field by breathing new life into museums, galleries, and public programs in the form of monetary donations and gifts of artwork.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been working on a tight budget even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Its Modern Wing, a project that was announced seven years ago, has constantly been delayed because of a lack of funds.
But that just changed.
Oscar Tang and his wife, Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang, have donated $125 million to the Met, the largest capital gift it has ever received. The contribution will jump-start the Modern Wing project after so many years—it’s estimated the complete undertaking of the wing will cost about $500 million. The renovations will include creating over 80,000 square feet of galleries and public space, finally giving a proper home to the gift of 79 Cubist paintings, drawings, and sculptures donated by Leonard Lauder in 2013. (The longtime philanthropist and Lifestyles Magazine/Meaningful Influence supporter broke a record with his donation, which was worth almost $1 billion.)
Tang is the co-founder of asset management firm Reich & Tang and has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various causes. His family sent him to the United States from communist China when he was 11 years old to attend school, and he later created success for himself as a financier.
“America gave me a refuge and the education and opportunities to succeed,” Tang said in a statement.
Tang has supported the arts for many years and has given funds to the New York Philharmonic, Princeton University’s P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, the Gordon Parks Foundation, and more. At Rectory School in Pomfret, Connecticut, he established the P.Y. and Kinmay Tang Performing Arts Center. He has also contributed to universities like Cornell, Duke, and Harvard, the Tang Center for Early China at Columbia University, and Phillips Academy.
In 1994, Tang was the first American of Asian descent to join the Met’s board of trustees. Over the years, he has supported the museum’s Department of Asian Art through gifts of Chinese paintings from the 11th to the 18th century. In 2016, he was honored by the Met with its Business Committee Civic Leadership Award for his service and contributions as a trustee and supporter of the museum.
“The Met has a special opportunity to be much more global in the context of modern and contemporary,” Tang said. “In the art field, there has been insufficient focus on this. We wanted to help the museum move in that direction, beyond the Western canon.”
Max Hollein, the director of the Met, has noted that the renovations are part of his approach to encourage more inclusive exhibitions of the museum’s pieces.
“The reimagining of these galleries will allow the Museum to approach 20th- and 21st-century art from a global, encyclopedic, bold, and surprising perspective,” Hollein said, “all values that reflect the legacy of Oscar and Agnes.”
In early 2021, Tang and his wife founded the Yellow Whistle Campaign, an effort to combat historical discrimination and the anti-Asian violence that has arisen in the last couple of years. They have noted the importance of having their names on the new Modern Wing, a recognition of their gift that will remain for at least 50 years.
“This country has been good to me—good to both of us,” Tang said. “And we want to put our stamp on it.”
Tang and Hsu-Tang have given the gift of new life to the Met and, once the renovations are done, a new perspective to the public. They have demonstrated the importance of the arts in everyday life, and hopefully others will be inspired by their generosity.