Back in June, when I interviewed Phillipe de Montebello, the outgoing director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (September’s “Out of the Picture”) he professed not to have any inside information on the search for his successor. “I don’t even know the names of the people on the list,” he told me. “And I really don’t want to.”
But he did offer up his thoughts on what sort of candidate would be best qualified to fill his shoes. “First you have been a curator, sine qua non,” he said. “You don’t make a great museum by managing it well. You have a vision. And if you have never been a specialist at one point in your life — if you’re only a generalist — you really don’t have that subcutaneous understanding of what it takes to buy, to install, to write about art and the enormous challenges that go into it.”
It sounds like the museum’s search committee followed his advice. Yesterday, the Met chose Thomas P. Campbell, a 46-year-old British-born tapestries curator, to succeed de Montebello as director and chief executive. Campbell, who’s never managed a large department, was a bit of a dark horse candidate. But he does have a history of surpassing expectations. In 2002, his “Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence” exhibition, which was expected to be one of those intellectual, “difficult” shows, ended up being a blockbuster, attracting upwards of 200,000 visitors. Whether he’ll be able to pull off that sort of magic as the man in charge remains to be seen.
Photo by Lee Clower