January 14, 2008

De Montebello to retire from Met

Posted at 1:48 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Philippe de Montebello, the director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum has announced his retirement, an event that has been anticipated for a long time. Although he has, in recent years resolved some major restitution claims, he always gave the impression afterwards that he still thought that his museum was in the right all along, but were forced into their decision. In many ways, his thinking is similar to Neil MacGregor’s – interestingly, one of the list of people who’s been tipped to replace him. It remains to be seen though whether or not MacGregor wants a career move after taking up his additional role of Britain’s first Cultural Envoy.

Bloomberg news

Met’s De Montebello Says `Time Is Right’ to Retire (Update1)
By Linda Sandler and Katya Kazakina
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg)

Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for three decades, said today that “the time is right” for him to retire because “society and the world change faster than people in positions like mine.”

A search committee chaired by Annette de la Renta will meet for the first time today to discuss possible successors, James Houghton, chairman of the museum’s Board of Trustees said at a press conference. Committee members include Shelby White, who, along with her late husband, Leon Levy, donated $20 million for the museum’s new Greek and Roman galleries, and board members Cynthia Polsky and Robert Joffe, a partner at New York law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore.

Museums are facing challenges ranging from escalating art prices, which hinder them from expanding their collections, to instability in the financial markets that may affect donations.

“The Met is a huge ship and it’s not going to turn like a little yacht,” de Montebello, 71, told Bloomberg television after the conference. “We are not going to do U-turns in policies, but one must adapt to a changing society.”

Van Eyck Favorite

Asked by Bloomberg News at the conference which objects he would take home from the museum if he could, de Montebello picked Jan van Eyck’s painting of the crucifixion of Christ, which dates from around 1430, and Jean Antoine Watteau’s early 18th century “Mezzetin,” which shows a commedia dell’arte musician strumming a guitar.

“This place is just so full of wonderful things. I could go on and on,” he said.

The committee will use a search firm to “sort out the chaff” before picking a successor, who “should be a serious art scholar with administrative ability,” Houghton said in an interview after the conference in the museum’s Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education.

Candidates range from James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, to Museum of Modern Art Director Glenn D. Lowry and Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, according to reports by Bloomberg and other news organizations.

“I hope the search committee will also take a careful look at talented staff inside,” said Lisa Dennison, former director of the Guggenheim Museum, who is now with auction house Sotheby’s. Emily Rafferty, the museum’s president, and Gary Tinterow, one of the curators, should be candidates, Dennison said in a telephone interview today.

Looted Objects

De Montebello almost doubled the museum’s size with the addition of new wings and gallery space for European sculpture, 20th-century art and classical antiquities.

“His commitment to the proper display of the museum’s permanent collection made him a paradigm for me,” Dennison said.

De Montebello said he would remain until the end of 2008, or until his successor is found.

The museum’s eighth and longest-serving director, de Montebello joined as a curatorial assistant in 1963 and rose through the ranks to become director in 1977. The French-born, American-educated art historian increased attendance from 3.5 million that year, to more than 5.1 million in 2000, before it dipped after Sept. 11, 2001.

About 4.6 million people visited the museum in the year ended June 2007, making it New York’s biggest tourist attraction.

De Montebello’s time coincided with the recent attempts by governments in Greece and Italy to recover artifacts they say were looted. The museum’s prize Greek vase, the Euphronios krater, was one of the items he agreed to return in protracted negotiations with the Italian government.

Looking Forward

He was also involved in the museum’s fundraising efforts. Late last year, the museum’s capital campaign, guided by trustee emeritus E. John Rosenwald Jr., exceeded $1 billion, the largest in the institution’s history, the museum said.

In 2006, de Montebello earned $4.7 million, the highest reported compensation among executives at U.S. nonprofit institutions, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey. His compensation jumped from $533,462 in 2005 because of a one- time $4 million payment to mark his 30 years as head of the U.S.’s largest art institution.

Among the most recent expansions de Montebello oversaw was a $218 million project to double the space for works of classical antiquity. The new Greek and Roman galleries drew 4,000 visitors a day in the seven months after opening in April 2007, the museum said last month.

De Montebello said there would be time later to add up his failures and successes. “I am of a disposition that looks forward, that tends to be optimistic,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Linda Sandler in New York; Katya Kazakina in New York .
Last Updated: January 9, 2008 15:16 EST

Time Magazine Blogs

January 8, 2008 10:32
Philippe de Montebello Retires
Posted by Richard Lacayo

It’s official. The director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will be stepping down at the end of this year. He’s 71 and came to the job 31 years ago.

The museum that de Montebello is leaving is one of the greatest in the world. It already was, of course, when he got there, but it has expanded enormously — to be precise, it nearly doubled — under his leadership. I was there again just a few days ago to say goodbye to the Euphronios krater, a Greek mixing bowl acquired by his predecessor Thomas Hoving, one of those disputed antiquities that has been successfully reclaimed by the government of Italy. In the space of just a few hours I wandered one more time through the magnificent new Greek and Roman galleries that were developed under his leadership and that opened last year, then jumped upstairs to look in on the newly refurbished galleries of 19th and early 20th-century European art, then stopped in at the new post-1960 photography galleries. Before the early 1990s there was no photography department at the Met at all. I made a mental note to hit the new galleries for Oceanic Art next week.

I had a talk with him in his office late last year about the antiquities disputes that involve so many museums in the U.S. and Europe. (You can find the second part of that conversation here. It’s worth revisiting because it gives you some idea of how combative he could be in defense of the notion of the universal museum that he — and not just he — believes in.) It was de Montebello who personally negotiated the first settlement with Italy, which became a model that other American museums have looked to.

But the endless and complicated antiquities dispute in no way defines his tenure, the longest in the Met’s history. The museum is forming a search committee for his successor. The usual suspects include Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, and Gary Tinterow, the Met’s curator of 19th century, modern and contemporary art. This should be quite a search.

ABC News (Australia)

New York’s Met seeks new director

Posted Thu Jan 10, 2008 11:39am AEDT

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is on the lookout for a new director, after long-standing chief Philippe de Montebello announced his decision to step down after 30 years at the helm.

French-born Montebello took over as director in 1977, more than a decade after first joining the museum – one of the world’s greatest collections of art and ancient artifacts – in 1963 as part of the European paintings department.

“Difficult as it is to contemplate life away from an institution to which I have devoted all but a few seasons of my professional life, I know that the time is right for both my own – and the museum’s – inevitable transition,” said Montebello, 71, in a statement.

During his time as director of the museum, attendance rose from 3.5 million to 4.6 million visitors a year and the institution’s operating budget rose to $US200 million ($226 million).

James Houghton, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, says a committee will be set up to search for a new museum director, and that Montebello will remain in his position until the end of the year or until a successor is found.

The New York Times named possible successors as: Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum; James Cuno, the head of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Glenn Lowry, the director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds more than 2 million works spanning some 5,000 years.


Wall Street Journal

Big Museums Draw a Blank
Met Head Resigns As Finding Leaders Gets More Complex
January 10, 2008; Page D5

Philippe de Montebello’s retirement as director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the most prominent in a recent wave of high-level departures rattling the museum world.

With a generation of seasoned postwar directors beginning to retire, at least 21 U.S. museums — including the Bass Museum of Art in Florida and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington — are searching for new directors, nearly double the usual vacancy rate, according to the Association of Art Museum Directors, a New York-based nonprofit representing more than 180 museum directors. In several cases, like the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., the hunt for a replacement has been going on for well over a year.

The Metropolitan Museum began searching yesterday for a new director to succeed Mr. Montebello, 71 years old, who said he plans to step down by year’s end after leading the museum for more than three decades, the longest tenure in the museum’s history.

Mr. Montebello’s decision comes at a time when the once-tweedy position of museum director is growing increasingly complicated. The industry as a whole is grappling with reduced federal and corporate funding of the arts, along with several years of flat attendance.

Museum directors have responded by boosting their fund-raising efforts and adding a slew of audience-friendly offerings like museum cafés, gift shops and curator-led vacations. But museum experts say the daunting job description — a mix of executive, lawyer and diplomat — has spooked some curators from signing up to direct; others have left for higher-paying jobs at auction houses.

At the Met, Mr. Montebello’s successor will need to be able to wax rhapsodic with curators about hieroglyphics and Damien Hirst as well as manage a staff of 2,600, a $201 million operating budget and a $1 billion capital campaign. The new director may have to navigate battles with foreign countries over disputed artworks, as Mr. Montebello had to do with Italy. And then there’s the job of playing cultural ambassador for New York, where the Met reigns as one of the city’s top tourist draws. Last year the institution and its collection of three million artworks and artifacts received 4.6 million visitors.

Art-world headhunters like Malcolm MacKay say the situation at the Met is different in some respects from other museums around the country. Mr. Montebello was paid $4.7 million in 2006, higher than anyone else at his level in the nonprofit world. Beyond pay, the job holds cachet and “what all museum directors want to do: positively impact our culture,” says Mr. MacKay.

Potential candidates include Gary Tinterow, the insider who is now the Met’s curator of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art; Timothy Potts, a former investment banker who used to run the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Texas; and Neil MacGregor, a lawyer who now directs the British Museum.

James Houghton, the Met’s board chairman, says any successor will need to have an anchored knowledge of art history, in addition to business savvy. “We’re not going to pick someone who’s just good at the bottom line,” Mr. Houghton said. “But the fact is, a lot of people no longer aspire to be museum directors … because of all the headaches that come with it.”

Mr. Montebello, a native of France who doubled the museum’s size, said museum directors “used to be able to learn on the job, but it’s more complex now.” He said he won’t take another job as a curator or art historian, but may pursue a job that would allow him to speak to broader museum issues.

Malcolm Rogers, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston worries that trustees could be making their list too short. What they need to find, if possible, is a baby boomer with enough drive to juggle the job’s myriad hats, he says. He cited the Met’s decision in 1977 to hire Mr. Montebello as director even though he had run the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston for only about four years. “Someone gambled on Philippe years ago, and look how it paid off,” says Mr. Rogers.

–Juliet Chung contributed to this article.

New York Sun

Not an Easy Act To Follow
January 10, 2008

Members of the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art reportedly cried at the trustees’ meeting on Tuesday afternoon when the museum’s director of 30 years Philippe de Montebello, announced his intention to retire But once the tears are dried and the encomiums expressed, the board will have to get down to the serious task of choosing Mr. de Montebello’s successor.

The board has named a search committee led by two vice chairmen of the board, Annette de la Renta and S. Parker Gilbert, and the committee planned to hold its first meeting yesterday, according to the Met’s chairman, James Houghton, who will serve on the committee ex officio. Among their first steps will be to hire a search firm. Museums these days all use headhunters, who can take some of the burden off board members by coming up with a long list of potential candidates and doing the preliminary interviews.

At an event yesterday morning to announce Mr. de Montebello’s imminent departure, Mr. Houghton gave few clues as to what the board is looking for in a new director, other than to say that the director of the Met will have to be “a serious art scholar,” not just a skilled manager. He said that it would be a “global” search, though in responding to questions he did not seem completely familiar with the two most prominent figures from Europe — the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, and the president of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette. As to whether the director will be someone who has already run a museum, Mr. Houghton said not necessarily, though it’s likely he or she would have experience running a large institution similar to a museum. One headhunter, Malcolm MacKay, of Russell Reynolds Associates, said he also thought that an art historical background was more of a non-negotiable than past experience as a director.

“The thing they will not compromise on is the art historical or curatorial background,” Mr. MacKay said. “You’ve got to be able to speak for the collection, and unless you have a serious art background, you can’t do that.” All of the candidates who have been mentioned — including, besides Mr. MacGregor and Mr. Loyrette, the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, James Cuno; the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Glenn Lowry; the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, Timothy Potts, and the Met’s own curator of 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art, Gary Tinterow — are art historians.

The job is either the easiest or the hardest position in the museum world to fill, depending on how you look at it. Easy, because, as Mr. MacKay put it, “the Met is at the top of the ladder, internationally,” so it’s unlikely that anyone offered the job would turn it down. Hard, because it is unlikely that all of the qualities a Met director should have will be found in equal degrees in any one individual.

In addition to having scholarly credentials, the director should be a successful fund-raiser. The Met is on good financial footing, as Mr. Houghton mentioned in his remarks yesterday, but New York is a competitive fund-raising landscape, with several other major museums, in addition to institutions such as the New York Public Library, competing for donations and support.

The board will also probably look for someone who is committed to acquiring and presenting 20th-century and contemporary art. “Relative to the other departments, which are of such longer standing, [modern and contemporary art is] the department that needs the most attention,” Mr. Cuno said in an interview. Should Mr. Tinterow be chosen as the new director, it would be a sign that the board wanted the museum to engage more closely with the contemporary art world and major collectors of contemporary art. It was Mr. Tinterow who secured from the hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen the loan of Damien Hirst’s shark, which is now on view in the contemporary art galleries.

With the possible exception of Mr. Tinterow, however, the board is likely to choose someone who has already been a director. All of the people on the list above are currently employed, which could in a couple of cases cause some complications. Mr. Potts, for instance, just took office this month as the director of the Fitzwilliam, having previously been the director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Mr. Lowry, through a spokeswoman, said that he would not take the job at the Met if offered it. (Mr. Lowry reportedly promised his new chairman, Jerry Speyer, last fall that he would stay on at MoMA for another three to five years.) Finally, as in politics, there is the likability factor. The director of the Met needs to have, as Mr. de Montebello does, the respect of 300 curators, conservators, educators, and librarians (as well as that of as an administrative staff of more than 2,000). As David Gordon, the outgoing director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, said of Mr. de Montebello: “He’s got the most incredibly strong personality: very charming, very engaging, very firm, very clear. He’s a kind of a deity among museum directors.” That won’t be easy to replace.

Mr. Houghton said yesterday that, during Mr. de Montebello’s tenure and largely thanks to his initiatives, the Met had gone from being one of the finest to being the finest museum in the world. Asked how the Met might improve, Mr. Cuno said: “To the extent to which it could [continue to be internationally pre-eminent] and also open itself up more to the community and to New York as a civic museum, that might be a challenge that one could put to it.” (Asked if he would be interested in the job, Mr. Cuno said: “I have no fantasy that that is even a prospect.”)

The director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Marc Wilson, said that, even though the Met will always have a large number of visitors who are highly educated about art, it can play a leadership role, within the museum world, in exploring new ways to connect to audiences. “Philippe has done the most fantastic job of avoiding the traps of fashion,” Mr. Wilson said. But, as an industry, he said, museums have to come up with new ways of making art meaningful to “a public that is rapidly changing, and that will no longer buy into value statements of the past, [such as:] ‘Going to a museum is good for you.'”

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