Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A new director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

And the editors of The New Criterion are ecstatic. Readers have been listening to them fretting over the impending retirement of Philippe de Montebello -- someone who in their eyes had managed to be "a unique moral and aesthetic force in a museum world besotted by the meretricious glitter of a preposterously overvalued and trash-addicted art market." (Tell us what you really think, will you?)

In looking ahead to the next directorship, they didn't exactly use the traditional conserative lament of "we are doomed, doomed, doomed..." But the subtext, as they say, was clearly in that vein -- they were bracing for the worst.

Since most Montanans read little about what goes on at the Met, and visit it even less, why should anyone care about the appointment of Thomas P. Campbell? The answer is simple -- institutions like the Met influence art museums in every corner of the country through their example, just as what happens at the Chicago Symphony influences the approach that smaller regional orchestras take toward their programming, their choices of new music to commission, and their interpretations of classic works. If Campbell bears out the promise that TNC's editors see in him, the visual arts will benefit everywhere.

The editors tell us that Campbell was on no-one's "short-list," and that the trustees of the Met had seen fit to reach out and tap a man on the shoulder who hadn't sought the job. The new guy in charge is a scholar, has a keen aesthetic sense, and seems to lack hubris besides -- what's not to like about that?

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