This Thursday, CAM welcomes Thomas P. Campbell of @metmuseum as the 2017 Distinguished Speaker. Since becoming the ninth director of the Met, Campbell has ensured the institution focuses on scholarship and accessibility, while maintaining excellence in exhibitions, collections, and acquisitions. Campbell has also encouraged new ways of thinking about visitor experience, exploring the use of technology and integrated education into all museum activities. Learn more at camstl.org/distinguishedspeaker. #MetMuseum #ThomasPCampbell #DistinguishedSpeaker @thomaspcampbell
Thomas P. Campbell suddenly resigned today as the director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He had held the position for the past eight years, prior to which he was a tapestries curator in the museum’s department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. He will step down on June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The Met’s president, Daniel H. Weiss, will serve as the interim chief executive while the museum selects its next and 10th director. “I couldn’t be more proud of The Met’s accomplishments during my tenure as Director and CEO,” said Campbell in a press release.
In reporting this news at the New York Times, Robin Pogrebin deduces that Campbell “resigned under pressure.” The Met, it’s now widely known, is in dire financial straits, as reported by Pogrebin. The museum is currently facing a deficit of $40 million and last year it was forced to fire 34 members of its staff, engendering a less-than-amicable work environment, with curators also being asked to cut back on spending and acquisitions. The assumption in the Times piece seems to be that the museum pushed out Campbell in order to address its economic issues.
In 2014, I was an intern in the Met’s education department, and soon after I briefly worked as a contractual educator. The summer internship offered me the opportunity to hear about the inner workings of the museum, specifically as it prepared to open the Met Breuer in the old Whitney Museum building — which cost the Met roughly $15 million to renovate and currently demands $17 million a year in upkeep. There was a lot of excitement about expanding the museum’s collection and programming, particularly in the areas of modern and contemporary art. Curators were looking forward to collaborating between departments and planning exhibitions that intersected across time periods and cultures. (The culminating project, in retrospect, seems to have been the Breuer’s inaugural and overpromising exhibition, Unfinished.) Campbell emphasized to the museum’s interns that one of his top priorities was scholarship — a noble and sensible pursuit for a major museum, but perhaps also a reflection of someone who has more the mind of a curator than a businessman.
“The Museum has evolved into a beacon of scholarship and understanding, not only for visitors to our New York sites, but globally through digital platforms, leadership exchanges, and more,” Campbell said in the press release of his time at the museum. “I am especially proud that our visitor base is the largest and most diverse in the Museum’s history.” Under his directorship, attendance across the institution’s three locations grew 40% to seven million a year.
To attract these audiences, the museum underwent a fair amount of rebranding. Campbell invested in building up the Met’s online presence and created a much-needed digital department. Early last year, the institution adopted a new (and frankly dull) logo. But diversity is not something the Met can boast about just yet. The lack of diversity among visitors was a concern when I was at the museum, and it should continue to be one — the most recent event I attended there was almost exclusively populated by white women over the age of 50.
Some of Campbell’s endeavors never came to fruition, including a new wing for modern and contemporary art that would have cost the museum $600 million. Others, including the Breuer and its excellent Kerry James Marshall retrospective, as well as an impressive acquisition of Cubist art donated by Leonard A. Lauder, have largely been deemed successes.
As for the next director, signs seem to be pointing, for better or worse, toward someone less invested in lofty ideals and more in practicalities. One can only hope, however, that the Met doesn’t go for a usual white and male suspect.