To Get Back on Track, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Sharply Scales Back Its Ambitions
Interim boss Daniel Weiss lays out a plan to restore confidence.
Amid a spate of negative press about numerous budget and management challenges facing the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Daniel Weiss, the interim director who will succeed Thomas Campbell when he officially resigns at the end of June, is acting fast. The latest is a sweeping plan to get the institution’s unwieldy budget under control and move forward with some renovation projects—though notably not the most high-profile one.
News of the plan was broken by Wall Street Journal reporter Kelly Crow, who writes that the move could “amount to an audition by Mr. Weiss for the top job at the nation’s premier encyclopedic museum.” Since Campbell’s abrupt resignation announcement on February 28, art world observers have been buzzing about who could possibly take the helm next.
Speaking to Crow, Weiss said the gist of his plan is to cut costs while still growing the museum at a reasonable pace. According to the WSJ report, he intends to tell the board he can close the current $15 million hole in the Met’s $398 million budget over the next two to three years by taking measures that include postponing exhibits and cutting back-office expenses while simultaneously pushing for higher revenue at the museum’s gift shops and restaurants.
He is reportedly not planning any more layoffs.
There’s more. Weiss also plans to propose that the Met address renovation projects one at a time as opposed to tackling overlapping ones. First up: He will target a project he deems “decidedly unsexy,” a plan to replace 60,000 square feet of decades-old skylights above the European art galleries that are at risk of leaking, at a whopping cost of $140 million.
He also plans to push for a $20 million renovation of the British galleries, a $5 million “facelift” for the musical instrument galleries, and solicit bids for renovation of the African wing, which he estimates could run to about $60 million.
According to the report, there is no mention of the museum’s indefinitely stalled $600 million new wing project, which has fallen far short of its lofty fundraising goal thus far.
Talking to the New Yorker‘s Calvin Tomkins last year, Tom Campbell had described the new wing as key to his overall strategy of wooing future patrons. “What the Met needs to do is position itself as a potential recipient for major gifts in this area,” he said at the time. “I can’t raise a hundred million dollars for a single work of art, but what I can do is raise six hundred million to rebuild the modern wing.”
The new wing was supposed to be the site for philanthropist Leonard A. Lauder’s blockbuster 2013 gift of a collection of Cubist art, valued at about $1 billion, as well as an eponymous research center. Now, the museum’s newer art “could go back into a spruced-up version of its current spot known as the Wallace wing,” according to Crow’s report.
Lauder indicated his support for Weiss, telling the WSJ that he’s “very good at his job.” The tycoon added: “The Met has seen its ups and downs and its directors come and go, but the only things visitors ever remember are the museum’s treasures. If you ask people who is running the Louvre right now, who can name that guy? But they all know the Mona Lisa.”
Weiss has reportedly already started on budget cuts. Museum executives say they are “still adjusting to the new austerity,” including canceling some art loans for recent major shows.
Hours before WSJ story, the Met issued a press release announcing that Stephanie D’Alessandro was named the Leonard A. Lauder curator of modern art as well as curator in charge of the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center, an appointment announced by Campbell.
D’Alessandro, who will join the museum in May, is currently a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she has worked since 1998. She replaces Rebecca Rabinow, who became director of the Menil Collection in Houston last summer. The pre-existing title of curator of modern art was renamed for Lauder in 2013 after he announced the donation of his Cubist art collection to the Met.
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