Philippe de Montebello’s farewell


Museology is in moral crisis after a spate of manic construction that has exalted edifices over their contents, and institutional narcissism over the romance of art lovers and art works. Witness the revamped Museum of Modern Art: it is less a building than a life-size architectural maquette, in which you and I fill the roles of little figures stuck in to convey scale. Our enjoyment of the museum’s unequalled collections feels incidental to another, mysterious purpose, perhaps known only by some executive cabal. I think that unease with the Modern helps to explain the euphoria, of everyone I know in the art world, that has come to attend any visit to the Met—a place that is not only for us but about us, as parishioners of visual high culture. Like ever fewer museum directors today, de Montebello cut his professional teeth as a curator, specializing in European paintings. The open secret of his success is a deep feel for the seriousness, and an identification with the enthusiasm, of his curatorial team. He trusts and abets their yearnings to connect. The payoff is a museum that honors the variety and the alacrity of our interests and appetites, and by “our” I mean that of all who vote with their feet to be present. (Met crowds, though inconveniencing, impart a sweetness of democratic participation like that of the first half hour or so of showing up for jury duty.) With gladness, I note a tincture of that quality in the compact, vernacular spaces and the curatorial tact of an inaugural show of assembled sculpture and collage at the relocated New Museum of Contemporary Art. The New Museum also palpably credits viewers with a will and a right to uncoerced experience. So it can be done, with or without marble pilasters. The tipoff is that you don’t find yourself wondering why anything is designed or presented in the way that it is. To look is to get it.

more from The New Yorker here.