Thomas Campbell: Incoming Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Met curator Thomas Campbell has been named as Phillipe de Montebello’s successor. On January 1, 2009, he will become the ninth Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met’s press release details Mr. Campbell’s accomplishments as a curator in European textiles. From the release, this quote by de Montebello:

Tom Campbell, in my view, is absolutely the right selection, as an outstanding art historian of proven experience and judgment who fits perfectly into the long tradition of Met leadership that emerges from within the curatorial ranks, which has been the case for all but two of his predecessors in more than a century. 

Modern Art Notes discusses the lack of significant reaction, and cleverly takes down the New York Times’s chief art critic for his blatantly stupid article on the topic.

Of course Kimmelman wasn’t going to admit what his piece made obvious: The ‘chief art critic’ of America’s most important newspaper wasn’t able to produce anything informed on the Met’s new director. Time and time again Kimmelman typed warm fuzzies about the importance of objects and cultures, boilerplate that could be as easily dropped into an analysis about the Kimbell as the Met.

Time‘s Richard Lacayo gives an initial reaction at what the Campbell choice means about the Met’s philosophy and where it sees itself going over the next few years.

If nothing else, the choice of Campbell is a way of saying that the Met’s first commitment is to pre-Modern art. There’s another museum just down Fifth Avenue that can handle the 20th century.

Lacayo followed up with an interesting take, but made some very good points.

[A]t a time when Western museums are trying to take a global view of [art] history, Campbell’s specialty in a relatively marginalized field – tapestries – could actually have been an advantage. With the two smashing tapestry shows that he organized for the Met, he proved that he could re-order art history and show why neglected chapters were essential ones. (And not so incidentally, crowd pleasing ones, too – without playing to the peanut gallery those shows were a draw.)

An article from the October 2008 Atlantic discussing de Montebello’s retirement mentions Campbell in relation to the outgoing Director’s style when dealing with curators. (The pertinent paragraph is at the bottom of the second page.)

Thomas Campbell was still a relatively new kid on the block when in 2002 he organized and mounted “Tapestry in the Renaissance,” the immense and audacious exhibition that irreversibly established the centrality of tapestry in 16th-century art. … The exhibition turned out to be a scholarly sensation and a hit with the public: “The Greatest Show in Town,” as The New York Review of Books announced on its cover. 

Obviously analysis is only beginning, and the real test of Thomas Campbell as Director will be the job he does when he takes over in January.


~ by David Cupp on September 10, 2008.

One Response to “Thomas Campbell: Incoming Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art”

  1. […] Digital photography by David Cupp […]

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