The Met struggles to find new director amid years of financial crisis
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is known to New Yorkers and tourists alike as one of the most prominent cultural hubs in New York City. Its exhibits span 5,000 years of history, making it relatable to people of many age groups and interests.
The fiscal year that ended on June 30 saw the museum welcome 7 million visitors across its three locations: The Met Fifth Avenue, Met Breuer and The Cloisters. To break that number down, 37 percent of visitors were international tourists and 30 percent came from New York City.
Yet, the Met also has a troubled story. For several years, the museum faced financial problems and struggled to stay relevant.
The past few years witnessed the museum walk some unexpected roads and spend money on ventures that had various results, such as the purchase of the Met Breuer building, which housed The Whitney prior to its relocation to a new building next to the High Line.
On Feb. 4, The New York Times reported that the Met had a $40 million deficit, which led to 90 employees getting fired and other cost-cutting measures. The newspaper also reported that the cost of expanding into the Met Breuer building ran up several millions dollars higher than expected. Those two issues combined forced the museum to postpone some of its prominent projects, including renovation plans and exhibits.
The article cited several anonymous sources who claimed the CEO and director of the Met, Thomas P. Campbell, was trying to do “too much too fast,” which ultimately led to the museum’s financial downfall. Under Campbell, the museum would schedule up to 60 exhibits per year, but the curators were asked to reduce that number to 40.
However, it is important to note that the Met achieved several major accomplishments during Campbell’s tenure. Since he took over in 2008, the number of visitors increased by 40 percent to the previously mentioned 7 million.
The museum also put up several prominent exhibits, including Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, China: Through the Looking Glass and Vigee Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France.
Furthermore, the museum hired 50 new curators and conservators, opened the Met Breuer, and rebuilt the American Wing, along with several other accomplishments.
Later that month, on Feb. 28, the Met announced that Campbell would resign on June 30. Although Daniel H. Weiss has since taken over as the museum’s CEO and president, the role of director is still vacant.
“I began at The Met 22 years ago as a curator and have been here almost my entire career. It was not an easy choice to step away, especially at such a vital and exciting moment,” Campbell said in a statement announcing his resignation. “I have worked hard, and I believe my efforts have paid off.”
Then, in May, several news organizations reported that the Met attempted to fix its deficit by formally requesting the city to start charging a full admission fee to out-of-state visitors. This would mean that New York state residents would still pay the pay-what-you-wish admission price, while all other visitors would have a mandatory admission fee.
In June, two weeks before Campbell resigned from his position, the Met announced that it put together a search committee to appoint the Met’s new director.
In the meantime, visitors have several exhibits to look forward to. Currently, the Met and the Met Breuer have three prominent exhibits on view.
Splendors of Korean Art brings prominent works from the National Museum of Korea into the Met. The artworks span from the Late Stone Age to the 21st century, including ancient burial sites, Buddhist sculptures, jewelry and pots.
On the more modern side, Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists is the documentation of conversations that took place between various artists over the course of several months.
The artists were not allowed to use words, and some of the most popular mediums included photographs, video recordings and art done on paper and sent to the conversation partner as a photograph.
Each conversation was either printed in a book, printed on canvas and hung around the room or projected on the walls. The exhibit provided an intimate view into the artists’ day-to-day lives that the audience rarely gets to experience.
Lastly, World War I and the Visual Arts delves into the effect of World War I on the visual arts. The artists featured in the exhibit delve into the horrors of war in the 20th century, along with a study of the various political ideologies that accompanied the war.
For future exhibits, the Met plans Michelangelo: Divine Craftsman and Designer, Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed and Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection. The Michelangelo exhibit has been labeled as a “once-in-a-lifetime exhibition,” while the Munch exhibit will feature 16 artworks that were never previously seen in the United States.
So far, the museum did not announce how it is going to make up for the deficit or who would become its new director. The decision will likely be announced next year.