The Fall’s Most Fascinating Art Show? The Met Trying to Fix Itself

The Met, through Kenneth Weine, its spokesman, said a new director is expected to be named next year. For the moment the museum seems to be heading into smoother waters under the guidance of Daniel H. Weiss, 60, who became the museum’s president in 2015, and, after a restructuring in June, its chief executive — meaning that the new director will report to him.

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Philippe de Montebello, who was the Met’s director from 1977 to 2008.

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Damon Winter/The New York Times

This power shift has led many to assert that the best candidates won’t be interested in the Met job. Dividing the responsibilities of the director, who sets a museum’s curatorial mission, from those of the chief executive, who controls the purse strings, was a fashion in the 1980s and early ’90s. But nearly everywhere it was set up, the director ultimately managed to consolidate authority — including Mr. de Montebello at the Met. Tales of miserable museum directors and philistine presidents still echo through the profession, like war stories.

This is not the ’90s; Mr. Weiss has the advantage of being trained in art history, which is rare among museum presidents, and big museums have long had too many moving parts for the top job not to be shared. But the museum professionals I spoke with were unanimous in the view that directors should have ultimate control of both mission and budget.

The Met tale acquired some new twists and innuendos in early August when Mr. de Montebello gave an unusually frank interview to artnet News. Among other things, he said that his successor’s departure was “long overdue,” implying that the trustees should have acted earlier. But he also granted that they could not have foreseen that Mr. Campbell, whom Mr. de Montebello had initially supported, would become, in his words, “a totally different human being the day he was made director.”

While Mr. de Montebello viewed the splitting of the chief executive and director as generally “not right,” he praised Mr. Weiss; he said he was certain that he would work well with anyone the trustees anointed and would know when to step back — and also when to bow out and leave the Met. Mr. de Montebello framed the whole process as a dignified rite of passage for the incoming director, even though it took him two-thirds of his own directorship to secure the chief executive title.

But the Met is…

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