Tuesday, November 06, 2018

New York and SF swap museum directors

When the news broke last week that Thomas Campbell, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was going to take over the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco—the very museum that the new director of the Met, Max Hollein, left to replace him—there was an immediate reaction in the art world akin to the witnessing of a marvelously witty occurrence, like non-tragic version of an O. Henry story. 

As time wore on, however, some people began to question the feat of museological chiasmus as something less savory. Isn’t that rather convenient—two white men at the apex of power, casually exchanging roles like two gentlemen swapping horses over a game of whist at the club?

Then again, you can’t fault a hiree for being hired, and it’s easy to see why the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco would jump at the chance to bring Campbell on board. A gifted curator who rose from organizing tapestry exhibitions—his specialty—to overseeing the Cloisters to ultimately running the Metropolitan Museum of Art, America’s finest universal museum, for eight years, Campbell brings with him a range of experience, connections, and earned expertise that a much smaller institution like the FAMSF could usually only dream of acquiring. 

At the same time, for the 56-year-old English museum veteran, the San Francisco post offers the possibility of a fresh start, since his rather abrupt departure from the Met in 2017 was marked by allegations of financial overreach, reports of staff mutiny under his watch, and other bitter public airings of laundry rare to the august New York institution...

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