Friday, May 25, 2012

Behind the Scenes at the Met

by Drew Martin
I just finished reading Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, which is a 265-page book of interviews with 49 people associated with the museum. The list includes board members, the former director Phillipe de Montebello (when he was director) and curators. Danziger paints the museum with a broad brush so we also get insights from the operational staff of food services, maintenance, security and fire safety. One quote I found interested is from the trustee, Michel David-Weill:

Art suffers from a sort of overadmiration. People don't have confidence in their own likes and dislikes, and in particular they give too much reverence to what's in museums. I strongly believe that when you don't like something, there is sometimes a very good reason for not liking it.

Museum, aside from a cover jacket with a night shot of the entrance of the Met, is void of pictures. This could be a wonderful documentary showing all the people interviewed, with great stills and pans of the artwork and the museum galleries. As a book, it could also be a lovely coffee table book but Danziger is looking for something in the candidness of conversational words, which pulls together this jumble of thoughts that would otherwise be random. What is constructed from everyone's input is the overarching theme that it is an honor to work at the Met, it is a great place to work but a financial sacrifice you have to accept as a career, for doing what you love. One could imagine that such a line up of people would be a cornucopia of character sketches but I know of the employee, Ira Spar, a research Assyriologist of ancient near eastern art and met through him, J. Kenneth More, the curator in charge of musical instruments, and I was surprised how little of their personalities came through their words. The individuals are a collective voice with Danziger's approach. Through them he details the operations of the Met and its engine of marketing, fundraising, retailing, collecting, networking and of course, displaying art. Despite the positive tone of the book, one thing I could not stop thinking about is a kind of biased curatorial display of certain sections in the Met. It seems a bit odd that the ancient Greek and Roman art is bathed in glowing light, while the African Arts are kept in a dark hall.