It’s the artworld’s favorite parlor game: Who will (or who should) become the next director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the event that Philippe de Montebello finally decides that he’s narrated one too many audio guides?
Philippe once told me that he wanted to stay on at least until the opening of the museum’s new Greek and Roman galleries. A little later today, I’m off to the Met’s press luncheon, which will include a preview of those galleries, described on the invitation as “the grand new ‘museum within the museum’ for one of the world’s great classical art collections, including the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court.” The opening is now set for April.
So this seems like as good a time as any for me to ruin my relationships with all the movers-and-shakers in the museum world by being candid about who I think should be considered for the top American museum post and who shouldn’t. Philippe has publicly stated that he does not want to be the one to pick his successor. So this sounds like a job for CultureGrrl!
A few general guidelines for my picks: They must have successfully directed a museum with a wide-ranging collection and they must have a background in art scholarship (although PdM had no PhD). They must be articulate, forceful advocates for the profession and its highest standards. A reputation for creative innovation and consensus-building is highly desirable, as is a relatively long prospective professional lifespan. For the runner-up, there’s likely to be a pretty good consolation prize: The directorship of the National Gallery of Art in Washington may be up for grabs before long.
I have spoken at one time or another—in person, by phone or both—with all but one of the the people listed below. But I have no idea which of them may actually want the job. A dark horse, which Philippe arguably was, is also a possibility. Finally, I’m not familiar enough with the current director of that breeding ground for New York City art museum directors, the Art Gallery of Ontario, to know whether Matthew Teitelbaum might be a good pick. That said, here are my six favorites, Letterman-style, saving the best (although also the most unlikely) for last.
6) Deborah Gribbon, former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum: She was given $3 million in 2004 to resign that post without suing her employers or talking publicly about her grievances against them. Deservedly well respected in the field, she’s never had a chance to display the full measure of her ability, having been on the leash of the Getty Trust’s now deposed president, Barry Munitz. I think she and the Met’s first female president, Emily Rafferty, could make a dynamic duo.
5) Michael Conforti, director of the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.: Now supervising a Tadao Ando-designed expansion plan, Conforti has a strong interest in and influence upon principles of museum governance. A decorative arts specialist, he has shown a deep commitment to promoting art scholarship and he is an outspoken proponent of museums’ collegially sharing their objects with sister institutions—at cost, not for profit. He is committed to developing programs that appeal to the surrounding community. But the others on my list have directed larger, more broad-ranging or more prominent institutions.
4) Maxwell Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art: I’ve always admired Max’s forward-looking, independent thinking, but he now carries a lot of baggage, thanks to his unceremonious departure from the Whitney Museum. He’s smart and articulate, cares about developing alliances with universities and art institutions, and has a broad art-historical and management background, having directed a university museum (at Emory), a specialized museum (the Whitney) and now an encyclopedic museum. And he’s a former Met man, having begun his career in the Greek and Roman department. But, as I wrote in a recent post, part of his problems at the Whitney may have been due to a lack of the patience, humility and consensus-building skills needed to realize his ideas without making enemies.
3) William Griswold, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Bill wins hands down for Mr. Congeniality, and I think he’s got the professional goods to be a heavyweight. He was acting director of the Getty Museum during the difficult time after Gribbon’s resignation, and he was an immediate hit with his community and his colleagues as the new director in Minneapolis, where he opened the new Michael Graves-designed wing. He recently announced his intention to strengthen the museum’s commitment to contemporary art with a new (as yet unfilled) curatorship in that field. But he’s too new at Minneapolis to make the move now. If Philippe hangs on for a few more years, Griddle Griswold sizzles.
2) Timothy Potts, director of the Kimbell Art Museum: An archaeologist by training, Potts is the right man in the right place at the right time. He strongly impressed me when I interviewed him in his Fort Worth office a while back, and again last May when I heard him speak at an Association of Art Museum Directors symposium in New York on “Museums and the Collecting of Antiquities.” He was chairman of AAMD’s task force that released, in February, new guidelines for borrowing antiquities. He has made impressive acquisitions at the Kimbell, and has presided over first-rate exhibitions. He has the mind of a lawyer, the sensibility of a scholar, and it is the right moment in his career to make the big leap.
And now [drumroll], my top (but highly unlikely) choice to succeed Philippe de Montebello as director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
1) Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum: The artworld’s number-one candidate for sainthood, he is firmly ensconced at one of England’s premier museums, after a highly praised directorial stint at another—the National Gallery in London. He is unlikely to move, let alone cross the pond. He not only has the mind of a lawyer, he IS a lawyer (by training). He has tremendous passion for and knowledge about art, as well as the powerful ability to communicate it. In short order, he turned around the ailing British Museum, restoring its finances and morale. He has creatively devised an exhibition program to share parts of the world’s patrimony with the countries or societies of origin where these objects from the British Museum’s collection have the deepest significance. (But he parts company with CultureGrrl in his refusal to part with or share the Parthenon marbles.) Although not for lack of trying, I have never spoken directly to MacGregor, other than asking him one question from the audience at the aforementioned May antiquities conference.
You may notice that I’ve omitted four names that often come up in these speculative discussions: James Cuno (Art Institute of Chicago), because I think he talks the talk better than he walks the walk; Peter Marzio (Houston Museum of Fine Arts), because I dislike his penchant for importing pre-packaged, high-rental shows; Glenn Lowry of the Museum of Modern Art, because I take him at his word (expressed to me once over lunch) that after his high-stress, highwire act at MoMA, he’d like to return to scholarship; the Met’s own curator Gary Tinterow, because…well, you know what I’ve already said about Gary Tinterow (here, here and here).
And now, please excuse me while I get ready to depart for the Met’s press lunch, where, thanks to this and other indiscretions, I will probably eat gruel in the galley.
Or maybe I should eat my own galleys!