The Wall Street Journal’s James Gardner looks at Philippe de Montebello’s valedictory exhibition:
Over the past 30 years and more, Mr. de Montebello has felt under no great obligation to suppress his skepticism, at times verging on hostility, toward the modern world. If it were possible for him to repeal the 20th century, and the fledgling 21st while he was at it, one suspects that Mr. de Montebello would without too much soul-searching. At the same time, he has always comported himself with a certain imperious self-regard that is rare and possibly charming among directors of major institutions in the U.S., which is, after all, a republic.
That “hauteur,” however, has proved beneficial for the institution he has directed for almost a third of a century. The quality of the exhibitions organized under his watch attests to his hell-bent insistence on high culture, as do the works acquired in his time, over 80,000 in all, that are the focus of this new show.
Though Mr. de Montebello has recently received many eloquent and well-deserved ovations as his long reign comes to an end, none of them is apt to be as stirring as this show, whose nearly 300 objects were culled from 17 curatorial departments and are arranged according to the decade in his tenure when they were acquired. [ . . . ]
As though to exploit the vertiginous diversity of its collections, this exhibition includes a Byzantine lectionary from 1100 together with Jackson Pollock’s “Number 28, 1950,” a Mangaaka power figure from Angola, a suit of armor from 1712, and a “Lamentation of Christ” by the Baroque master Domenichino. Behind the acquisition of almost every one of these objects was the quest for quality, that superannuated concept that, perhaps more than anyone else alive today, Mr. de Montebello believes in, heart and soul.
The Eye of the Met’s Director (Wall Street Journal)