Getting to Know ‘Tapestry Tom’ Campbell

Thomas-Campbell.jpgIt’s been almost a year since we breathlessly relayed the news of Thomas “Tapestry Tom” Campbell‘s selection to succeed Philippe de Montebello as director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The former curator of European sculpture and decorative arts has now been at the top job since January, when he greeted the world via YouTube. So how’s it going? Rebecca Mead assesses the situation in “Renaissance Man,” a profile of Campbell that appears (alongside a terrific photo by Jason Schmidt) in the July 27 issue of The New Yorker.

In short, times are tough. The Met’s endowment has lost a third of its value since last July, donations are down sharply, and cost-cutting is the order of the day. Campbell describes his reaction to the recent exhibition of masterpieces acquired during the reign tenure of Montebello: “I thought, My God, especially with the economy going south, how am I going to buy anything?” But fear not, he’s looking on the bright side and thinking about signage and exhibition design—truly a man after our own hearts! Mead explains:

In fact, Campbell has been telling wary trustees that in disaster may lie opportunity: works of art may now make it to the market that might not have done so in happier economic times. Similarly, the dire financial circumstances of the museum will allow him to make some changes that he would have wanted to make anyway, such as reducing the number of special exhibitions, thus letting the staff spend more time rethinking how to present the permanent collection in a way that is friendlier to casual visitors. Mulling the merits of explicatory placards in each gallery is less glamorous than signing checks for masterpieces, but Campbell can become as consumed by a discussion of signage as an urban planner puzzling over traffic management.

Previously on UnBeige:

  • Thomas Campbell Makes First Big Public Announcement Online
  • Thomas Campbell Named Next Director of Metropolitan Museum