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Amidst Villar Rojas’ Chaotic Ruins on Met’s Roof Garden, Dan Weiss Sets Me Straight (with video)

“Barratt’s Back,” I announced in the erroneous headline of a recent post. It seems that she never left.

Carrie Rebora Barratt, the Met’s deputy director for collections and administration, in the museum’s Roof Garden
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

At least that’s what Metropolitan Museum President Daniel Weiss told me at Thursday’s press preview for the Met’s latest Roof Garden commission—Adrián Villar RojasThe Theater of Disappearance (to Oct. 29). “Theater of the Absurd” might be a more apt title for this surrealistic, macabre conglomeration of ghostly objects. They were cloned from the Met’s collection using 3D scanning and advanced imaging techniques (done in-house by the museum’s imaging department).

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In all, nearly 100 objects from the museum’s collection have been appropriated for a display where “all sense of the interpretive history associated with museum objects has vanished, making way for an alternative history of art,” according to the introductory wall text. I asked the organizer of the show, Beatrice Galilee, associate curator of architecture and design, to dispel my confusion over what that “alternative history of art” might consist of.

After hearing this, I was still perplexed:

He’s not talking about the regions that the museum has divided the collection into….It’s not a history of art that he’s presenting, but it’s a way of looking at the objects without those regional differences. They’re replicas, so they’re not constrained by those regional differences.

To get a somewhat clearer idea of what this is all about (and to see more of the installation), come join me on the roof for the curators’ opening remarks (my apologies for the windswept audio):

In the artist’s statement posted at the entrance to the installation, Villar Rojas describes his Met mashup as “a windy desert, a scale-model theater of disappearance.” Maybe this represents the hangover after a particularly wild Night at the Museum:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Given the Met’s recent turmoil, I couldn’t help regarding Rojas’ chaotic jumble of a coherent collection as reflecting the museum’s own recent disarray. Rojas’ decision to appropriate for his own project the institution’s widely criticized smooshed typography made no sense to me, until I saw this as possibly a satiric gibe:

My tentative interpretation of what I saw in “The Theater of Disappearance” also infected my understanding of Rojas’ “disappearance” from the “theater” of the press preview. The official explanation for his no-show status was that he’s “press-shy.” But he did give substantial access to Laura van Straaten for her preview piece in the NY Times.

The Met’s dystopian aura that (rightly or wrongly) I see objectified on its roof has been incisively elucidated in a deeply informed, well researched piece by Boris Kachka in the current issue of New York MagazineWhat Broke the Met?.

Boris Kachka, cultural journalist
Photo from his website

Kachka reports that whoever is chosen to succeed the embattled Tom Campbell as director after his scheduled June 30 departure “probably won’t also hold the title of CEO, as Campbell and [Philippe] de Montebello did; a board committee is currently reevaluating these rules.” Kachka also writes that “Weiss, now the [interim] CEO, is said to be in the running for director, but board chair [Daniel] Brodsky told me, ‘I think we definitely need two people.'”

I think Brodsky is probably right. But what does Dan Weiss himself have to say?

Up on the Roof: Met President Daniel Weiss with Sheena Wagstaff, Chairman of Modern & Contemporary Art
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

When I asked the Met’s president and interim CEO whether he might eventually add “director” to his current titles, he didn’t rule it out:

Honestly, I don’t know. My goal is to do the work that has to be done, to serve the museum the best I can [and] to explore the right governance models to make this place work well. As long as I can do the job the way I need to do it, I’m delighted to be here. The board has been very supportive of me and wants to figure that out. So we’re all going to work together.

Here’s what Weiss said about Campbell’s current status:

He’s still the director. At the moment, he’s on a trip to India. I think he’s on a plane. He’ll be back today. He’ll be in and out of the museum for the next couple of months….I don’t know his exact schedule, but he’ll be around some, sort of transitioning out of the role.

His day-to-day work is mostly being done by others—by me and others. As part of a normal transition, that’s what you would do.

Likely to be doing some of Campbell’s “day-to-day work” is Deputy Director Barratt, who had reportedly taken a buyout but, according to Weiss, was only “thinking about it. We’re really pleased that she decided to stay. She has such experience, she’s such a terrific professional, that we’re lucky to have her.”

So why was Campbell in India, other than to put some distance between himself and his soon-to-be-former institution? For that, let’s visit his Instagram page:

This is one of five palanquin covers that are being conserved at the textile conservation studio at the Delhi headquarters of INTACH, the cultural heritage organization that documents cultural sites across India.

For anyone wondering, my quick trip to India was to meet with officials who are overseeing a fellowship program funded by the Mellon Foundation and the Indian Ministry of Culture, which allows conservators from India museums to travel to SRAL, a conservation center in Maastricht, and the Met, for training and ongoing consultation.

It’s one of the international initiatives in which the Met has participated over the last few years, sharing our expertise, learning from our peers, and laying the foundation for future collaborative projects.

Perhaps Campbell will be returning to his area of curatorial expertise. The respected tapestries curator had also been the supervising curator for the Met’s Antonio Ratti Textile Center—his only administrative post prior to taking the top job.

an ArtsJournal blog