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MeTube: Bionic Philippe on How Titanium Knees Influenced Departure from the Met

Honoree Philippe de Montebello, speaking last night at the National Arts Club

I was on hand yesterday for the dinner honoring Philippe de Montebello at the National Arts Club in New York, where two of the originally announced speakers—Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas, and Neil Shapiro, president of WNET/Thirteen (New York Public Television, where Philippe has a regular gig), never took the podium, but the unannounced Dr. Ruth did, bringing down the house with one quip.

I was juggling knives and forks when she said it, so the following is a Westheimer paraphrase, not a direct quote:

Whenever I was at the Met, Philippe was the most reliable of men: When he talked in your ear and said he would meet you in the next room, he was always there!

I didn’t video the good doctor, but I did capture Philippe, below, musing on why he had decided his days as director of the Met should come to an end. (The French-born de Montebello was being honored by the National Arts Club for “excellence in presenting French culture.”)

But first, a few tidbits that are not on the video clip: In a brief conversation before dinner, Philippe invited me to audit (for
a fee) his
next NYU course on “The Multiple Lives of Works of Art.” (Does that mean I
have the “permission of the instructor”?) He wouldn’t explain what that enigmatic title meant, so I had to search for the course description on the Institute of Fine Arts’ website (scroll down). The colloquium does not zero in on the various meanings of and roles played by specific artworks, as I had wrongly anticipated from the title:

The course focuses on the main functions of museums as they relate to their stated mission. The purposes, processes, and ethics of such fundamental processes as acquisitions, installations, exhibitions and interpretation are examined in detail. The role of museums in our age of globalization are also discussed.

How do I sign up?

News to me last night was that among the many hats that Professor Philippe now wears is that of special advisor (scroll down) to the Leon Levy Foundation headed by antiquities collector Shelby White, a major patron of the Met.

You can see him in the photo below, at a meeting convened by the Levy Foundation on “how best to make available the trove of unpublished information from
important ancient world sites excavated under “partage” agreements.” Timothy Potts, erstwhile of the Kimbell, now director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, is in the top row, second from the left. Philippe, bottom row at the left; White, bottom row, third from left:


Philippe confided during his speech that one of the joys of post-museum life is being unfettered by constraints previously imposed by the Met’s own PR department: If he has an opinion he wants to express, he now feels free to “write an Op-Ed for the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, or somewhere else, without the head of public relations at the Met saying, ‘You can’t publish this!’ So there’s a certain freedom that comes with the academic world.”

I am still looking forward for the emergence of “Philippe Unchained,” as I previously called it.

Here’s Philippe on why he decided it was time to leave the Met. I toggled back and forth between the distant view from where I was seated and
the close-ups afforded by the nearby video screens:

Speaking of titanium knees, I’ll be getting a small outpatient repair of my own crumbling infrastructure on Monday. Posting next week is up in the air, depending on how that goes. The blog’s “Donate” and “Buy Now” buttons are always functional, however, even if the Donee isn’t!

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