Yesterday's cascading announcement across the art media that Max Hollein had been selected to be the next director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art provoked a bit on unintentional comedy. Hyperventilating news outlets marked their Twitter links with "Breaking," as if the release of Hollein's name would somehow provoke subsequent reactions into an unravelling news cycle; one editor got so excited, he or she marked their story in a daily newsletter with the headline, "Exclusive," blithely unaware that the same story was blanketed across every publication.
The jejune over-reaction was as non-comprehending as it was fitting. The Met's decision to split the job of director into a role over-seeing the 'content' side of the museum—curators, exhibitions, etc.—and a CEO charged with stabilizing the museum's finances and managing its business operations is an admission that role of museums—their reach, their influence and their prospects to anchor a local economy—has changed. The Met is the premier museum in a country that views museums as non-governmental organizations that must look after their own financial health.
That this directorship was also the focus of hopes and demands about diversity and representation within museums is only confirmation that the role of the museum in 21st Century society has changed dramatically. With that in mind, it is worth acknowledging that only the New York Times's Robin Pogrebin—who is perhaps singularly responsible for defenestrating the previous director of the Met—seems to have gotten to the heart of the appointment. Hollein is a talented and accomplished administrator. He's no scholar even though the directorship he's been appointed to is even more suited to an accomplished curator and art historian than ever. Here's Pogrebin:
Unlike his recent predecessors Philippe de Montebello, who served for 31 years, and Thomas P. Campbell, who served for eight, Mr. Hollein did not ascend from the Met’s curatorial ranks. He was reportedly a runner-up when Mr. Campbell was chosen in 2008.
But he was an appealing candidate this time around for a museum seeking a stabilizing force after a period of financial turmoil. He is an aggressive fund-raiser with experience in contemporary art as well as a broader knowledge of art history, who has a track record of digital innovations.
Is that a bad thing?
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