an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Name That Met Director: The Game Show’s Final Round

Max Hollein: The frontrunner?

Pop Quiz for Met Museumologists:

Which of these four museum professionals is not like the others?

A) Gary Tinterow, the Metropolitan Museum’s curator in charge of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art
B) Ian Wardropper, the Met’s chairman of European sculpture and decorative arts
C) Thomas Campbell, a curator specializing in tapestries, from Wardropper’s department
D) Max Hollein, director of the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, since 2001 and, since 2006, also director of Frankfurt’s Städel Museum and the Sculpture Collection of the Liebieghaus.

Right again, art-lings. The Vienna-born Hollein, son of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Hans Hollein, is the wild card in this multiple-choice list, which an informed CultureGrrl source has good reason to believe is the Final Four in the tournament to determine Philippe de Montebello‘s successor.

My informant, whom I have sworn to identify no further (on penalty of death), is well connected but not completely in the loop (i.e., not a Met trustee or headhunter). Deep Throat is reasonably confident (but not 100% certain) that this is indeed the list of those still in the running. This is a blog, not the mainstream media, so allow me to indulge in some well grounded speculation.

While most of the New York artworld is out of town, the surviving candidates are said to be engaged this week in the final round of interviews, one contestant per day, in advance of the Sept. 9 board of trustees meeting where their fate may be decided. That’s not to say that an announcement will be forthcoming then: After selection comes contract negotiation.

Why do I guess that Hollein (above) may be the frontrunner? Two reasons: If my informant is correct, he’s the only outside candidate who made the cut, which gives him special status. Also, I remember something that architect Steven Holl once told me about the Museum of Modern Art’s competition for its expansion: The finalists were assembled in one room, looked around at one another, and correctly concluded that the assignment would go to Yoshio Taniguchi, whose work stood out as different in character from the others’ more edgy oeuvre. In that group, he was the wild card.

Hollein spent several years working at the Guggenheim Museum, but is nevertheless unfamiliar to me. So let’s all get up to speed:

The Metropolitan Museum’s trustees were said to be looking for someone young to be the next director. Born in 1969, Hollein certainly qualifies. And he has an impressively extensive background for a 30-something. His experience is broad geographically (museum jobs here and in Europe) and art historically. (Here’s a list of exhibitions he has overseen as director at the Städel—everything from old masters to contemporary.)

He has had extensive involvement with contemporary art and was commissioner and curator of the U.S. pavilion at the 7th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2000 and commissioner of the Austrian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2005.

He’s also got that increasingly hot qualification—business creds: He earned degrees in both business administration and art history.

According to his bio, issued by the Städel Museum:

From 1996 until late 2000 he worked closely with the Guggenheim’s director, Thomas Krens, first as Executive Assistant to the Director and from 1998 onward as Chief of Staff and Manager of European Relations, with responsibility for such essential projects as the construction of the exhibition spaces of the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and the Guggenheim Las Vegas, for exhibition tours, and for the opening activities of the Guggenheim Bilbao as well as for contacts to European cultural institutions, collectors, media, curators, and sponsors.

So this is another Krens protégé made good. (Think Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum, and Julian Zugazagoitia, director of El Museo del Barrio.) A more recent American connection: He was an editor of the catalogue for the Women Impressionists exhibition now at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which was organized by his Schirn Kunsthalle.

Not surprisingly, Hollein was widely believed to be in the running for the Guggenheim’s top spot, as reported by both Bloomberg and the NY Sun. Phillips Oppenheim, the headhunting firm for the Met’s directorship, is performing the same function for the Guggenheim.

Now let’s allow Max to speak for himself, in a May 2007 Goethe-Institut interview with Daniela Gregori, with whom he discussed his views on the contemporary art-market boom and the role (or lack thereof) of art critics:

In the hangover that will occur after the boom, the art critics will again appear on the scene and suddenly they will be listened to again….Once the hype has settled, attention will fall on different tendencies in art and it will be noticed that they have been there all along in recent years as parallel phenomena.

An art market boom is always the result of something. This time it is the result of a good business cycle and a more intensely globalized economy that have generated high liquidity and an increased demand for luxury goods. When this cycle collapses, money will be quickly invested in commodities less susceptible to inflation. It then takes about a year until the art market also collapses. It’s all quite simple.

And I suppose that directing one of the world’s premier art museums is, likewise, a piece of cake. Time and the Met’s trustees will tell.


an ArtsJournal blog