The Metropolitan Museum of Art Makes a Stand
The Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s financial woes return to the spotlight this week. The museum’s board interim director, Daniel H. Weiss, has been promoted to the role of president and CEO. On the surface, the appointment is unremarkable and on some level a relief. Weiss has served as the museum’s president for the previous two years.
For an institution desperately in need of stability, voting in a reliable, albeit lackluster, candidate seems a good way to go. Rest assured Weis will “right the ship” with plans that include levying entry fees for out-of-town tourists, scaling back exhibitions, and ramping up retail and food and beverage sales. All business strategies that (you may have noticed) have nothing to do with cultural stewardship and everything to do with further the mission drift of the museum, conflating its purpose with that of a shopping mall/amusement park.
The Flair of de Montebello
To trace the shift of the Met from sleepy scholarship and doyen-centric art appreciation to slick monetized entertainment one needs to recall the tenure of its celebrated director, Philippe de Montebello, who in 1999 ascended to the dual role of director and CEO.
Though one could safely argue that no previous museum director anywhere had done more to expand the audience for art than had de Montebello, his blockbuster shows set a trend for taste, flair and Disneyesque showmanship that though certainly fun, would ultimately prove to be unsustainable and for the most part culturally bereft.
Campbell’s Excessive Falter
Enter Thomas Campbell, successor and heir to de Montebello’s “the sky’s the limit” one-upmanship, and behold the fallout of untethered excess—a flaming and mythic re-enactment of the doomed flight of Icarus (duly and dourly noted by the Met’s board).
The yet-to-be-named museum director, charged with managing the “art” side of the organization, will report to Weiss—a clear message that profit-driving, bottom line business practices will supersede curatorial flights of creative fancy for some time to come.
Will Weiss Ask the Right Questions?
Again no real surprise. Historically creative types are rarely trusted with the reigns and the Met itself has gone back and forth on who ultimately gets to call the shots. In its current iteration, however, is this power struggle not a symptom of the more glaring yet unresolved existential questions laid bare by the museum’s multitude of ill-informed, disingenuous and misdirected pursuits?
In the year 2017, what is the Met meant to be doing and to whom is it meant to be serving? Cultures, we can attest, advance to the extent they ask timely, right and meaningful questions.
Dare I say then, that for most of us, it’s no longer a question about “who” at the Met—we’ll leave the luxury of that fretting to the 1% of the museum-going population. For the rest of us, it’s about what and why.
Michael Gormley is editor-in-chief, of The Artist’s Magazine.