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Proud and Unbowed: Tom Campbell’s Valedictory to the Press (plus, a look to the future)

I was surprised and saddened to realize (from Robin Pogrebin‘s tweet) that I hadn’t been invited to Tom Campbell‘s press briefing at the Metropolitan Museum on Wednesday—the last of these biannual events before he “step[s] down” (his words, my link) from the museum’s directorship on June 30. I’ve attended these informative conclaves for decades:

Tom Campbell at the Met press breakfast last May
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Hearing of my plight, a friendly colleague provided me his own digital recording of the proceedings. I transcribed Campbell’s astonishingly self-congratulatory oration, but then decided that instead of dissecting it, I should avert my eyes from the train wreck. (I’ve already said quite enough about Campbell’s precipitous fall from grace.)

Suffice it to say that Tom set the tone at the beginning of his recital of positive contributions (also enumerated here) with this blanket assertion of self-worth:

I want to be very clear to everyone in the room that I’m very proud of what I accomplished during my tenure, proud of where the museum is today.

There was no whiff of regret, let alone acknowledgement of any personal responsibility for the financial debacle that occurred on his watch.

One welcome innovation at Wednesday’s press briefing (which ought to be adopted by the new regime) was allowing the individual curators (rather than the director) to describe their upcoming shows. I only wish I that could have seen the accompanying slides!

Here’s the show I’m most excited about, which curator Carmen Bambach said was the result of “original research” that began in 2008 (on Philippe de Montebello‘s watch). It includes, she said, “extremely rare works” and would fulfill the Met’s mission to “change our perspective on a subject, no matter how well known.” (Save the dates: Nov. 13-Feb. 12.)

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer

Michelangelo, “Three Labors of Hercules” (detail), 1530-33, Royal Collection Trust
©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

By weird coincidence, the day after I licked my wounds about having possibly been blackballed, the Met hit me up for a donation: An email yesterday from Clyde Jones III, who was appointed two years ago to the new post of senior vice president for institutional advancement, said this was a “critical moment” because “the latest federal budget allocates a minimal amount of funding to the arts. If passed, this budget will ultimately lead to the dissolution of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.”

The emailed solicitation linked to this donation page, which suggested my appropriate benefaction would be $100. (I’ll let you make that contribution, in my honor.)

Numerous museum officials (including Campbell, in his NY Times op-ed piece) have argued for continued federal funding for the arts. But never I’ve heard anyone use the possible (as yet undecided) elimination of that funding as the basis for a museum donation pitch. Instead of saying, “I urge you to stand with the arts at this critical moment by making a donation to the Met today,” Jones should have urged me to contact my Congressional representatives about saving NEA, NEH and IMLS.

Speaking of donations, media mogul, art collector and former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg has been on a philanthropic binge lately, with his Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announcing commitments of $75 million for The Shed, NYC’s planned new cultural venue designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and $15 million for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

I think that Bloomberg and Dan Weiss, the Met’s president and CEO, could conspire to mastermind a beautiful David Chipperfield-designed Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art (naming opportunity included). I have no knowledge whatsoever that this marriage of like minds is actually under consideration. But to me, the possible synergy between these two leaders is an intriguing prospect.

Let the courtship begin.

an ArtsJournal blog