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Dan’s Plans: Weiss Rethinks the Metropolitan Museum’s Capital Projects UPDATED

In a departure from usual protocol, Daniel Weiss, the Metropolitan Museum’s president, handed Kelly Crow of the Wall Street Journal a detailed scoop (published online this afternoon) about his revised plans for the museum’s capital projects, which entail the sequential replacement of skylights in the European galleries, renovation of the British galleries and musical instrument galleries, and possible renovation of the galleries for Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

Whether and when the $600,000 renovation and gallery expansion of the Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art, designed by David Chipperfield, will get off the drawing boards remains to be seen. It was to have been the next big construction project after this:

New entrance plaza: the Met’s recent $65-million capital project
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Usually announcements of major capital plans (or revisions thereof) are made after the board has had time to discuss them and act. The board meets tomorrow (Wednesday). The undue haste perhaps was driven by the sense that there’s an urgent need for damage control and crisis management—an emergency response to counter the downbeat narratives that have developed around the museum’s leadership transition and financial shortfalls. It makes the point that Weiss has confidently hit the ground running as the museum’s “interim chief executive officer.” (Campbell relinquished the CEO role in announcing his resignation, but is to remain as director until June 30.)

If, as Crow suggests, Weiss’ presentation tomorrow to the Met’s board might be seen as an “audition by Mr. Weiss for the top job at the nation’s premier encyclopedic museum,” he appears to have flubbed his entrance by going public on the capital-plan revamp before assembling the trustees. Then again, there may have been a flurry of phone calls to get the board on board in advance.

UPDATE 3/22: Ken Weine, the Met’s chief communications officer, told me today that all of the planned projects and their timing “were discussed at the January board meeting and the next day at our all-staff meeting.” But according to Crow’s report, Dan’s plans were “to be presented to the Met’s board of directors on Wednesday [today]….Weiss said he plans to suggest that the museum tackle several renovation projects one at a time, rather than attempt to overlap them.”

Why is it important to turn public perceptions around quickly? There are a lot of half-truths and innuendoes in the air, due, in part to recent articles in the New York Post and Vanity Fair that I mentioned in my last post. This negative buzz is bad for the Met’s reputation and damaging to the fragile morale of staffers who have survived cutbacks and endured a reduction in benefits.

One encouraging bit of news in the WSJ piece is that Leonard Lauder has explicitly stated that “his promised gift [of 78 Cubist works] isn’t in jeopardy because of the stalled contemporary-art wing.”

Other Lauder-related good news that didn’t make it into Crow’s piece is the Met’s announcement today that Stephanie D’Alessandro, the well respected modern art curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, will join the Met in May as Leonard Lauder Curator of Modern Art and Curator in Charge of the Leonard Lauder Research Center for Modern Art. She succeeds Rebecca Rabinow, now director of the Menil Collection, Houston.

Stephanie D’Alessandro & John Elderfield at Museum of Modern Art’s 2010 Matisse: Radical Invention
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Back in April, when I asked Weiss whether there was a chance that the Southwest Wing project might be scuttled, he had asserted unequivocally: “No.” I’m not sure that he would be so certain about that today.

I am also wondering whether Campbell, increasingly barraged by negative assessments of his leadership, might decide jointly with the board that it could be best to end his tenure sooner than scheduled, rather than prolonging a lame-duck directorship.

Finally, I’m no more a fan of “WSJ First” releases of important information than I was of Times First policies. It’s especially surprising that there’s still no general press release late tonight of the news published by Kelly mid-afternoon.

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