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September 09, 2008

A Director for the Met: A Young European

After 31 years of the leadership of the legendary Philippe de Montebello, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York went in-house, and young, and British.

Thomas Campbell, a 46-year-old curator in the department of European sculpture and decorative arts, was the talent behind the Met's quiet blockbuster in 2002, "Tapestry in the Renaissance," and the young prince tapped for one of the most important jobs in art scholarship and preservation in the world.

Leading lights in the art world like Neil MacGregor at the British Museum, or Michael Govan here at the L.A. County Museum of Art, were passed over, as was reported finalist Max Hollein, of the Stadel Museum in Frankfurt.

The choice of Campbell, who is young and untested as a leader, may reflect a desire for change and dynamism (can we call it the Obama effect?). But he is nonetheless rooted in the very traditional, Eurocentric traditions of museum scholarship. Will he have the vision to take the Met through the challenges that it and other encyclopaedic museums are facing in the 21st century?

I, for one, hope that Campbell will consider a fundamental change in the museum's posture when it comes to its own history of collecting and provenance. Greater transparency, and a sharing of this history with the public, is necessary for the Met to be worthy of its reputation as one of the finest museums in the world. More on this, of course, when "Loot" is published.

Comments

DR.kWAME OPOKU

We hope the new director will follow the injunctions of the AAM that:“Beyond the requirements of U.S. law, museums should not acquire any object that, to the knowledge of the museum, has been illegally exported from its country of modern discovery or the country where it was last legally owned”. The old practice of acquiring objects which,by all standards,could only have been looted,should cease under the new leadership.

It is also our hope that the new director,unlike his predecessor, will not try to defend the so-called "universal museum" in all its manifestations. He should abjure the unethical and totalitarian aspects of the teachings, doctrines and practices of Philippe de Montebello,Neil MacGregor and James Cuno. He should tread a path of reconciliation and co-operation with countries that have genuine grievances against the practices of the past.

Above all,some humility should be perceptible even in the greatest and the mightiest museum director.

We wish him success and good luck.

Kwame Opoku.

waxword

dr. kwame, thank you for writing. i read your thoughtful articles on this subject with great interest. your suggestion of western humility is a message i am constantly transmitting to museum directors. i am convinced that it is respect, rather than objects per se, that source nations week.
best,
sharon.

waxword

dr. kwame, thank you for writing. i read your thoughtful articles on this subject with great interest. i am convinced that your suggestion of 'humility' is the most important point in this debate, and i constantly say so to western museum directors. it is respect that source nations seek, rather than objects per se.
thanks,
sharon.

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