A Look to the Past: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Five years ago, for Quest’s 25th Anniversary Issue, I began a hymn to the Metropolitan Museum as follows: “Of the great arks of civilization that dot the city, one above all seems hardly to have put a toe wrong: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. . . . Even as it grows as a tourist attraction, (the Met) prospers as a fortress of high culture, an institution with a contented, motiva

ted, challenged faculty (curatorial staff) whose head person has their backs. Thus was the Met run by Philippe de Montebello, and so is it being run by his successor, Thomas Campbell, (along with) President Emily Rafferty.”
Well, how short-sighted I was. In the half-decade since I wrote that, all hell has broken out uptown. Rafferty retired; Campbell has resigned; curatorial discontent has festered in the wake of new hires, buyouts, and benefit cuts. A cottage industry of Met scandal-mongering has grown up, dangling choice tidbits of gossip before the public like cheesy ornaments on a plastic Christmas tree. Worst of all, the museum’s financial condition has been shown to be if not dire, certainly more parlous than was thought—and this suggests that the Met’s board, which flaunts some of the most glittering, self-regarding names in high finance, went into hibernation sometime around 2013. These will be fixed. Financial problems can be solved with a mix of prudence and common sense. Initiatives that seemed ill-advised to begin with—a massive push into contemporary art, for

openers—have been cut back, although Met Breuer seems to be a success. Nothing good can be said about the pimpish connection to the fashion industry but that foolishness must in due course wither away.

What will never wither is what the Met is really all about: the incomparable treasures it houses and the people who care for and explicate them. Ars longa, vita brevis. Truer words were never spoken.