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President Dan Weiss Snares Top Spot at Metropolitan Museum (with director as subordinate)

Congratulations, Daniel Weiss. You’ve passed the audition.

As announced in today’s press release, the Metropolitan Museum’s board voted unanimously to make permanent President Weiss’ previously interim appointment as the museum’s CEO. No surprises there.

The big news, unmentioned in today’s NY Times report, but implicit in the Met’s official announcement, is the board’s laudable decision not to add “director” to Weiss’ titles.

According to the press release:

The museum will lead a search to appoint a director of the museum, who will report to Mr. Weiss. The president and CEO will be responsible for the overall leadership of the museum, and the director will lead the core mission functions.

Dan Weiss addresses the press at Met’s Roof Garden
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

For a while, it looked like the financially pressed museum might make Weiss a three-fer—president, CEO, director. As recently as the Apr. 13 press preview for the latest Roof Garden commission, Weiss answered, “Honestly, I don’t know,” when I asked him if he might add “director” to his titles.

I’ve opposed the idea of entrusting those diverse, demanding roles to one individual, ever since that notion was floated at the end of Robin Pogrebin‘s Feb. 18 NY Times report about embattled director Tom Campbell‘s resignation.

Then I wrote:

At a time when the Met is in organizational and financial turmoil (and keeping in mind the Peter Principle), I think the board should keep Weiss focused on what he does best—administration and financial planning. For the directorship, he lacks the same crucial experience that Campbell lacked: He’s never directed a museum, and the Met’s top spot is no starter directorship.

That said, Weiss is an art historian, unlike previous Met presidents, so the idea of his being the museum’s artistic head isn’t too much of a stretch. In today’s NY Times article (linked in the second paragraph, above), Pogrebin surprisingly stated: “If he had been passed over for the directorship…, Mr. Weiss might have left the institution.” In fact, he was “passed over” for the directorship. Nevertheless (and fortunately for the Met), he’s staying the course.

Important cautionary tales for the planned reorganization are the Met’s problematic experiences (as described in this unaccountably unbylined—Calvin Tomkins?—1997 New Yorker piece) with a two-headed administrative structure under two previous presidents. William Macomber was Philippe de Montebello‘s organizational superior; William Luers, his equal. It was only after Luers’ 1999 retirement that de Montebello achieved CEO status. Emily Rafferty, Weiss’ predecessor as president, was de Montebello’s subordinate.

Notwithstanding Weiss’ position at the top of the organizational chart, setting programmatic priorities and goals should be the director’s domain (albeit in consultation with the CEO). Weiss’ role should be to ensure that the institution has the physical infrastructure and financial foundation to realize the director’s and curators’ vision, and to flip the financial circuit-breaker if expenses threaten to overload the system. Whether this division of responsibilities will work well in practice, under a CEO who is both knowledgeable and opinionated about art, remains to be seen.

What has yet to be announced is who, if anyone, will serve as acting director while the search for a permanent leader is conducted and concluded. An obvious choice for the interim period is Met veteran Carrie Rebora Barratt, who’s on the ground as an accomplished deputy director (and former American art curator). She had reportedly taken a buyout, but Weiss told me at the Roof Garden preview that she had only been “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”…especially during this transitional period.

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

Whether Barratt will be a candidate for permanent director designation remains to be seen. I previously nominated a few of my own suggested candidates here and also at the bottom of this post.

Meanwhile, to whet your appetite for the director’s search, here are the “Requirements” that were enumerated for the last search that ultimately led to Campbell’s appointment.

And here are my 10 suggestions for Tom Campbell that I had presumptuously offered one month before he assumed his post in January 2009. Most of these have yet to be realized. His successor would do well to implement this to-do list (with special emphasis on the last item—“exploiting the new-kid advantage” in fundraising).

an ArtsJournal blog