Rogues' Gallery Part 13/
Rogues' Gallery Part 13
The Met's Old Guard held on. In 1991, S. Parker Gilbert Jr. came onto the board and the investment and finance committees and quickly became "the real force" behind the museum's investment decisions. Gilbert was the latest Morgan trustee, the son of a Morgan partner and undersecretary of the Treasury who'd administered German reparations between the world wars. After his father's death, Gilbert's mother married Harold Stanley, another Morgan partner and a founder of Morgan Stanley, formed when J. P. Morgan shed its investment banking operations during the Depression. After graduating from Yale and serving in army intelligence, Gilbert junior joined the family firm and in 1983 was named its chairman. Gilbert would quickly rise in the museum's hierarchy; after taking over the investment committee in 1993 and joining the executive committee in 1995, he was named a vice chairman in 1999. But the old families were increasingly over-shadowed by much newer money.
Its arrival coincided with the Lila wing's completion. As the final touches were being put on the museum within a museum for modern art, Luers was readying a campaign to get this new generation of donors to pay for the last puzzle piece of the master plan-the only part conceived as well as executed under Montebello. Hoving's plan had called for a second garden courtyard of about the same size as the Charles Engelhard Court to occupy an empty notch between the new Rockefeller and Wallace wings and Theodore Weston's 1888 Wing B, containing the old Medieval Sculpture Hall and the existing decorative arts galleries. But his promise of a beautiful, new public garden behind a gla.s.s facade incorporating a sculpture gallery and a park entrance to the museum was about to be broken. At the end of 1986, ground was broken instead for what was called the ESDA wing, a $35 million home for European sculpture and decorative arts, which had been left adrift when Geldzahler effectively seized the museum's southwest corner for modern and contemporary art.
Kevin Roche designed this new s.p.a.ce, which would also contain a conservation center, new executive offices, a restaurant, a 240-foot-long sculpture courtyard with a pyramidal skylight, and temporary exhibition galleries. Planning for the five-story, 141,000-square-foot behemoth, larger than the Lila wing, was carried out in secret, and the drastic change in plan was only revealed after excavation had begun. That news, which once would have certainly stirred discussion if not outrage, was received without criticism (except from Dietrich von Bothmer, still mourning the loss of his Greek and Roman galleries), buried deep in the arts pages of Punch Sulzberger's New York Times New York Times.
Five months later, Punch was revealed to be the successor to the ailing d.i.c.k Dilworth as the museum's chairman. "It was a very shrewd move," says a former curator. "Immediately, the museum was no longer held to certain standards." Sulzberger's role in his newspaper's coverage of the museum is a subject of debate. It is undeniable that after Hoving, the Times Times was less critical, but under Montebello there was far less to criticize. Montebello was not a risk taker. Rather, he was a caretaker-a brilliant one, but a maintenance man nonetheless. was less critical, but under Montebello there was far less to criticize. Montebello was not a risk taker. Rather, he was a caretaker-a brilliant one, but a maintenance man nonetheless.
The last master-plan construction job proceeded without a peep of protest, and the ESDA wing galleries opened over the course of four years, from 1988 to 1992. Its Central Park entrance, which the museum was still promising in the summer of 1987, was never mentioned again. At first at least, construction proceeded slowly; money for the building's sh.e.l.l came from $11.2 million in bonds issued by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, a quasi-public branch of state government that finances and manages construction of buildings for the public good. Luers had to find the rest. He carried on Dilworth's strategy of bringing in new money, its age and pedigree notwithstanding. "Bill Luers was a fantastic success in smoothing things out and bringing in big donors," says his predecessor's brother, John Macomber.
More funds eventually came from the city. Ed Koch credits his chief of staff, Diane Coffey, and his representative on the Met board, Ronay Menschel, for that. "I was constantly pushed by the two of them to protect the museum's budget," he says. Sulzberger's comment on the latest city grant rewrote history somewhat, but did reflect the new conflict-free reality. He said the money "underscores once again a partnership that has long existed between City Hall and this great inst.i.tution. Our bonds of unity have become a standard and model for the rest of the nation, demonstrating the harmonious interdependency that can exist between the private and public sector."110 Ronay Menschel credits "a mayor who appreciated the importance of the museum more than his predecessors" for this, but also "the improvement in the economic climate" in the Reagan years. The new business t.i.tans who climbed from that crucible were the next generation of potential museum benefactors. Many were willing, but some proved unable to break into that charmed circle.
One who tried was Saul Phillip Steinberg, who'd bought John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s 740 Park apartment in 1970 as the first step of a long campaign to storm the bastions of New York finance and society. A feisty and brilliant outsider, a Wharton-trained financial operator (whose failed 1969 attempt to take over Chemical Bank made him a pariah in WASP banking circles), and the central figure in a scandalous tabloid divorce, in which his wife charged him with financial shenanigans and cocaine addiction, Steinberg was disdained by the sorts of people who'd long run the Metropolitan, even after he sold an early collection of German Expressionist paintings and started buying old masters in an attempt to reposition himself as a man of wealth and taste.
"To a shocking extent, the people who've a.s.sembled art have had other or parallel agendas, which is very depressing," says a former museum director. "You deal with it. If they can help us, we can help them." But Steinberg's interest in art and the museum seemed to transcend mere utility. The relationship began in 1973, encouraged by a friend who developed the Met's merchandise. Steinberg's Reliance Group Holdings, an insurance-based conglomerate, paid for a survey of att.i.tudes about the museum that showed it was New York's top tourist attraction. In return, Reliance got to hold its annual meetings in the auditorium. In years to come, Steinberg and Reliance underwrote exhibitions and the $500,000 cost of creating and publishing a comprehensive guide to the collections, and even paid to install the museum's popular Christmas tree and creche.
But Steinberg didn't get what he wanted. "Of course, he wanted to be a trustee," says a lifelong friend of his. "It was appropriate considering the amount of money he gave. He was captivating, brilliant, successful. He was a serious, knowledgeable collector. He gave money, paintings, endowed galleries. His name was all over the museum. And he made no demands. You don't ask, but of course it was known what he wanted. But they couldn't handle him. He was too smart, he'd made his money too quickly, and they didn't have the money he had. And he just kept giving. I thought he was a schmuck to keep giving. They did nothing for him. He was an arriviste, an upstart. The museum simply shafted him." Steinberg's art dealer, Richard Feigen, "was outraged," says Steinberg's friend. "He thought it was pure anti-Semitism." (Feigen, who now has a good relationship with the museum, denies this.) Still, Luers proved willing to engage the sorts of donors the museum had previously disdained. The first donation for the ESDA wing came from CBS's chairman, Larry Tisch, and his brother, Bob, the postmaster general of the United States, whose $10 million donation in June 1987 got their name on the Tisch Galleries for loan exhibitions. Another new benefactor was A. Alfred Taubman, a Michigan shopping center developer who made a big splash in New York in the fall of 1983 by buying Sotheby Parke Bernet. The previous year, he'd made the first Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans with a fortune estimated at $525 million. He soon added two Met trustees, Ann Getty and Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, to Sotheby's board and began offering to buy art for the museum.
Taubman was approached to make a big donation after he hosted a benefit for the museum in Sotheby's salesroom in September 1984 to celebrate the hundredth birthday of the auction house. The evening was a watershed; the first time in anyone's memory that the commercial art trade had been so closely linked to the art temple. But the $50,000 Taubman raised and another $50,000 he gave himself were enough to a.s.suage any concerns among the guests, who epitomized New York society in the mid-Reagan years: in the crowd were Tisch, Estee Lauder, William Paley, Guy de Rothschild, Mercedes Kellogg (the future Mrs. Sid Ba.s.s), Nancy Reagan's favored escort, Jerome Zipkin, and the Doug Dillons.
Not long afterward, Taubman and the Met began negotiating a much bigger gift. The museum wanted another $10 million for the ESDA wing and offered to name it for him. "Taubman made the negotiations for 'his' wing so awful they actually told him to take a hike," says an Ashton Hawkins intimate. Taubman is said to have argued over how many times his name would appear in and on the wing and even how high off the ground it would appear. "Ashton called it the most unpleasant experience of his career."
Taubman is evasive about the episode and simply says he gave about $15 million to Harvard instead. Bill Luers won't talk about it either, but does say that he quickly replaced Taubman's money with $10 million from another up-and-coming financier, the leveraged-buyout mogul Henry Kravis, who not only got a wing named after him-ESDA became the Henry R. Kravis Wing for European Sculpture and Decorative Arts-but in 1989 was elected to the Met's board, too. Though he was a Jew from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kravis, who'd worked for Bear Stearns before forming a private equity firm with two of his co-workers, was deemed more socially compatible than Steinberg and Taubman. He had a philanthropic track record, having created an investment fund to encourage inner-city job development. As important perhaps, he had one generation of connections behind him; his father, Ray Kravis, partnered with Joseph P. Kennedy in the oil business in the late 1940s.
Another new face in society, and on the Met board, in 1989 was one that could not have pleased Jane Engelhard or her daughter Annette. Mrs. Milton Petrie, wife of an aged retailer who, like Kravis, was part of the Bear Stearns circle, joined the board at the same time Kravis did, a little over a year after her husband pledged $10 million to pay for the sculpture court in the new wing. Milton Petrie, then eighty-seven, owned Petrie Stores, a women's clothing retail chain. But his fourth wife was the former Marquesa Carroll de Portago, who had briefly been Charlie Engelhard's lover. Her fourth marriage had proved charmed. Petrie, the son of a Russian immigrant p.a.w.nbroker, who'd gotten his start before the Depression with a hosiery store financed from his winnings at c.r.a.ps, was worth about $890 million, according to the latest Forbes Forbes rich list. rich list.
After the Engelhard affair and another failed marriage, Carroll was left with a Fifth Avenue apartment, a small house in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas, and an empty bank account. Acquisition minded as always, she went looking for another wealthy husband and hit the jackpot when she went on a blind date with Petrie, twenty-some years her senior. He didn't look like much-he wasn't handsome, smoked cigars, and worked out of a drab New Jersey office-but he bought her expensive jewelry and stopped drinking for her, and within months they were married in a 1978 civil ceremony.
Together with Carroll, Petrie embarked on an extraordinary second career in philanthropy, giving away more than $100 million in the next ten years, much of it to Jewish charities, but also giving quiet aid to individual accident and crime victims he read about in the papers, particularly wounded policemen and the families of others who'd been killed in action. But those were his causes; the Met was Carroll's. "She wanted to be on the board," says a close friend of hers-and Milton bought the seat for her at the then-going rate of $10 million. It "was a big 'f.u.c.k you,' " a friend of Carroll's told the author Charlotte Hays. Whenever Jane or Annette or any of their friends entered the museum, "they can't avoid seeing the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court," the counterbalance, both architecturally and socially, to the Charles Engelhard Court.
Milton Petrie died in 1994, leaving his wife a $150 million trust fund, $5 million in cash, all their possessions, and a foundation with an endowment of about $350 million. In the years since, she stayed on the museum board, eventually becoming emeritus. She refuses to discuss the museum or Engelhard, but she's already had the last word.
BY 1985, P 1985, PHILIPPE DE M MONTEBELLO HAD SETTLED INTO HIS JOB ("part diplomat, impresario, courtier and lawyer," he'd say). He'd won back some of the directorial prerogatives that he'd at first been denied, the approval of the press ("His tenure so far has been impeccably correct," said the ("part diplomat, impresario, courtier and lawyer," he'd say). He'd won back some of the directorial prerogatives that he'd at first been denied, the approval of the press ("His tenure so far has been impeccably correct," said the Times) Times), and also something more important to the smooth functioning of the museum-the respect and confidence, if not always the admiration, of his staff.111 The Louis Sullivan staircase in the Charles Engelhard Court became a symbol of curatorial preeminence over the Met's administrators. When William Macomber decided its installation would be too costly, Montebello fired off a memo ordering him to stay out of matters of art and find the money to install the stairs. He did. The Louis Sullivan staircase in the Charles Engelhard Court became a symbol of curatorial preeminence over the Met's administrators. When William Macomber decided its installation would be too costly, Montebello fired off a memo ordering him to stay out of matters of art and find the money to install the stairs. He did.
Soon after he was made acting director, Montebello made his first high-level curatorial appointment, replacing Henry Geldzahler with Thomas B. Hess, a former editor of ARTnews ARTnews, in February 1978. Five months later, though, Hess collapsed at his desk and died of a heart attack.
It took eleven months for Montebello to replace him with a chain-smoking, alcoholic workaholic, a committed bachelor and Paul Sachstrained curator who liked to be called Uncle Bill. Authoritative, urbane, intimidating, concise, and famously difficult ("I can't hear you" was a favorite refrain), William S. Lieberman was a thirty-five-year veteran of the Museum of Modern Art, where he'd been the protege of Alfred Barr and famously bought Gertrude Stein's art collection over the course of one frantic weekend. Shortly after that, he lost a political battle to become chief curator of paintings and found himself sidelined in the prints and drawings department. So he leaped at the chance to move to the Met, where he would not only be in charge of hanging its modern collection in the Lila wing but also have the chance to show up his MoMA rival.
Lieberman proved a mixed blessing, but a great character. Arthur Rosenblatt felt he was a good man with a blind spot for architecture and installation. "The unfortunate layout" of the Lila wing, he said, "is entirely Bill Lieberman's fault."112 Though the galleries he designed and hung inspired "lots of complaints," an art dealer agrees, Lieberman's brilliance at "convincing people to buy and then give art" was unparalleled. His knowledge of twentieth-century art and his single-minded ability to romance donors and attract treasures finally drowned out the critics who said his buying was old-fashioned, promiscuous, uncritical, and political. Though the galleries he designed and hung inspired "lots of complaints," an art dealer agrees, Lieberman's brilliance at "convincing people to buy and then give art" was unparalleled. His knowledge of twentieth-century art and his single-minded ability to romance donors and attract treasures finally drowned out the critics who said his buying was old-fashioned, promiscuous, uncritical, and political.
Immediately after his arrival, great collections started coming to the Met. Lieberman was peripheral to the first two, Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman's collection, which came in 1980, and 450 works from the estate of Scofield Thayer, including paintings by Pica.s.so, Braque, Munch, and Matisse and drawings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. The second had been willed to the museum in 1925, though n.o.body knew until Thayer died in 1982. He had a.s.sembled his collection while editing the Dial Dial, a maverick literary magazine that published T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, and William Carlos Williams. An early patient of Sigmund Freud's, Thayer had severe mental problems and quit his job in 1926, just after he loaned his collection to the Worcester Art Museum in his Ma.s.sachusetts hometown and saw his taste excoriated by local critics-apparently a traumatic event. Afterward, he was inst.i.tutionalized, and his art stayed in place for more than fifty years. Only when his will was read was Thayer's reaction to Worcester's provincialism revealed: he'd left his entire collection to the Metropolitan.
Lieberman was responsible for luring many of the gifts that came after that. In 1996, he reeled in the collection of the art dealers Klaus and Amelia Perls, including Cubist masterpieces by Pica.s.so and Braque and the museum's first Modigliani statue, and half of the collection of the May Department Stores heiress Florene May Schoenborn, who was a trustee of MoMA, making her gift that much sweeter for Lieberman.
His greatest catch was his last, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection, though he almost lost it before the gift was saved by Montebello. Like each of the donations he'd won before, the Gelman gift-valued at $300 million and consisting of eighty-five pieces by Degas, Matisse, Braque, Balthus, Bacon, Giacometti, Pica.s.so, and Modigliani-was hailed for filling gaping holes in the Met's modern holdings. Montebello even agreed to keep it together.
Jacques Gelman was a Russian-born producer who'd made a fortune making Mexican movies. He and Natasha, a multinational beauty from what is now the Czech Republic, used his fortune to buy art, becoming patrons of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and gathering one of the best private collections extant of French modernist paintings.
The Gelmans had known Lieberman since the 1950s but had fallen out with him by the mid-1980s over Lieberman's blossoming friendship with another wealthy international, the Mexican billionaire collector Emilio Azcarraga. Natasha had already decided to give their school of Paris paintings to an American museum; they'd long kept an apartment in New York. Though she'd had a relationship with MoMA, she felt it didn't need her art. The Met did-desperately-but somehow Lieberman found himself competing with the Guggenheim, whose director, Thomas Messer, was also a Czech, and the National Gallery. When Montebello heard that Natasha and Lieberman were on the outs, he invited her to lunch at a private club near her apartment. What they discussed isn't known, but the result is: there was a rapprochement, Lieberman curated a show of their art at the Met in 1989, and Natasha promised the museum her collection, endowed a curatorship, and was named an honorary trustee.
Lieberman wasn't finished. After Azcarraga died in 1997, and Natasha Gelman followed in May 1998, the coast was clear for Uncle Bill to take up Azcarraga's blond, blue-eyed ex-wife, Paula Cussi, and get her involved with the Met, too. The Mexican mogul had met Cussi, "his third or fourth wife, depending on the source," the New York Observer New York Observer reported, "while she was working as a weather reporter ... Although his marriage to Ms. Cussi ended in divorce, he reportedly was generous to her in his settlement and in his will," leaving her a stake in his business that she sold for a nine-figure sum. reported, "while she was working as a weather reporter ... Although his marriage to Ms. Cussi ended in divorce, he reportedly was generous to her in his settlement and in his will," leaving her a stake in his business that she sold for a nine-figure sum.113 Just after Natasha's death, seemingly out of the blue, Cussi was named co-chairman of the next Party of the Year, along with Miuccia Prada, the fashion designer, and Pia Getty, an heiress and socialite. Cussi was also named and remains a Met trustee, a status that eluded Natasha Gelman. In 1998, Cussi was among the donors who paid an estimated $20 million so the Met could buy White Flag White Flag, its first painting by Jasper Johns, filling what Montebello called "a cruel gap" in its collection. Montebello had visited Johns, who'd kept it since it was painted in 1955, and convinced him to sell. Lieberman was so thrilled he gave the museum another, smaller Flag Flag that his mother had bought in 1958. that his mother had bought in 1958.114 Lieberman's last big coup came in 2003 when the Met got a hundred works from the collection of his friend Pierre Matisse, the artist's son, and his wife. In 2004, he defied a serious illness at age eighty-one and came back to work, only to be elbowed aside. His fief, renamed the Department of Modern Art in 1999, was renamed again, this time oddly as Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, encompa.s.sing European painting after 1800 and international art and decorative arts of the twentieth century. Gary Tinterow, a protege of John Pope-Hennessy's, was installed as its chairman-the new boss. Uncle Bill was made chairman emeritus and special consultant, reporting not to Tinterow but to Montebello.
Lieberman's dedication to the museum was unwavering; art was his life. "He was eighty years old, but he still went to work every day, and had lunch at the same spot in the Trustees Dining Room," says a friend. "He came home from work one night and died" in his sleep in 2005. At his memorial, some of his greatest acquisitions were displayed onstage, so he was sent off by his best friends: Pica.s.so, Matisse, Balthus, Leger, Modigliani, de Kooning, Freud, Pollock, and Warhol.
DUE IN NO SMALL PART TO THE GLAMOUR OF THE E EUROPEAN Paintings Department, the Pope and his court of curators were-arguably-the focus of more attention, fascination, and gossip than any group of art experts in the world. Promised anonymity, many say that they were a kind of harem surrounding their leader and that curatorial fortunes rose and fell based on his enthusiasms, s.e.xual and professional. "John was certainly not an angel in that respect," says a former colleague at the Victoria and Albert. And Pope-Hennessy did end up retiring to Florence in 1986 with a male intern from the museum who was his partner until his death in 1994. The fact that several of his most important hires are demonstrably heteros.e.xual does nothing to stop the rumors. Paintings Department, the Pope and his court of curators were-arguably-the focus of more attention, fascination, and gossip than any group of art experts in the world. Promised anonymity, many say that they were a kind of harem surrounding their leader and that curatorial fortunes rose and fell based on his enthusiasms, s.e.xual and professional. "John was certainly not an angel in that respect," says a former colleague at the Victoria and Albert. And Pope-Hennessy did end up retiring to Florence in 1986 with a male intern from the museum who was his partner until his death in 1994. The fact that several of his most important hires are demonstrably heteros.e.xual does nothing to stop the rumors.
The Pope loomed large, "but it was a matter of talent," argues William Hood, an Oberlin College art historian who knew him. "Generally, people backbite when they're envious. That's human nature."
Some of the most persistent backbiting has concerned Gary Tinterow, one of Pope-Hennessy's last hires, who would emerge as his most powerful protege, briefly touted in 2008 as the only in-house candidate to succeed Montebello. A handsome native Houstonian, the son of a violinist and bandleader who toured with the Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey orchestras in the 1940s, Gary trained in art history at Brandeis and Harvard, before pa.s.sing through a number of museums in America, Israel, and England. He'd come to the Met as a Ted Rousseau fellow in 1982 and was named Engelhard Curator the next year, shortly after he co-curated The Essential Cubism at London's Tate Gallery with Douglas Cooper, the former n.a.z.i art chaser. It was Cooper who'd brought Tinterow to Pope-Hennessy's attention. The Pope apparently took one look and hired him. And Tinterow never looked back.
Keith Christiansen arrived in the European Paintings Department after earning a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1976 and became another Pope protege, known for his photographic memory of art and its owners, and another favorite of wealthy collectors. Named the Jayne Wrightsman Curator in 1989, he has published often and has coordinated exhibits on Italian painters like Caravaggio, Correggio, Mantegna, and Carracci to great acclaim. But what Apollo Apollo magazine once called his three-decade pursuit of the Renaissance painter Fra Carnevale began with a tussle that still rankles the young art scholar he crossed swords with thirty years ago. magazine once called his three-decade pursuit of the Renaissance painter Fra Carnevale began with a tussle that still rankles the young art scholar he crossed swords with thirty years ago.
In 1978, Christiansen was an a.s.sociate curator, a.s.sisting the Pope, when Monica Strauss, now a private art dealer, was at the nearby Inst.i.tute of Fine Arts, writing a dissertation on Fra Carnevale. She dug up convincing evidence that two panel paintings-one in the Metropolitan and the other in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston-that had been the subject of fierce attribution debates were actually Carnevale's, and her adviser told her to go to the Met and tell Pope-Hennessy what she'd learned since he would be reading her dissertation anyway. According to Strauss, Pope-Hennessy asked Christiansen to sit in on the meeting, where he asked for a photocopy of her references but seemed to reject her theories. She left the meeting "upset and insecure," she says.
Friends and professors advised Strauss to publish her finds as fast as possible in order to lay claim to them, but Christiansen published first. Strauss felt he'd used her discoveries without credit. "I was devastated," she says. She complained to the IFA-but to no avail.
In 1994, Strauss did get some credit in a scholarly publication on the Renaissance. And in 2005, when Christiansen curated a Met show on Fra Carnevale, Strauss got proofs of the catalog and found that though she wasn't mentioned in Christiansen's essay, she was "cited in all the articles by others," she says, "which was a big relief." She wasn't invited to the opening, but did attend a private viewing of the show. When she saw Christiansen there, she says, "we both looked away."
BY THE EARLY 1990s, P 1990s, PHILIPPE DE M MONTEBELLO HAD GAINED respect for his ability to manage both up and down, throwing credit bones to his curators and keeping key trustees happy. Many thought he'd restored the Met's standards. Others felt he'd simply put the museum back to sleep. "He was Hoving's Brutus, dancing on his grave," says a journalist who has covered the Met for decades, "a dull status-quo man, an old fogy, snooty, deeply aware of his own dignity, posing as a statesman, the worst of both worlds, stifling the museum's dynamism so he could climb on its corpse in solitary power." And Montebello's grace under pressure sometimes failed him. The 1993 publication of Tom Hoving's museum memoir respect for his ability to manage both up and down, throwing credit bones to his curators and keeping key trustees happy. Many thought he'd restored the Met's standards. Others felt he'd simply put the museum back to sleep. "He was Hoving's Brutus, dancing on his grave," says a journalist who has covered the Met for decades, "a dull status-quo man, an old fogy, snooty, deeply aware of his own dignity, posing as a statesman, the worst of both worlds, stifling the museum's dynamism so he could climb on its corpse in solitary power." And Montebello's grace under pressure sometimes failed him. The 1993 publication of Tom Hoving's museum memoir Making the Mummies Dance Making the Mummies Dance was one of those occasions. In it, Hoving gleefully bit the hand that had fed him, revealing lots of those naughty little secrets Montebello says the museum doesn't have. Shortly after the book came out, Arthur Rosenblatt b.u.mped into Montebello on a bus and the next day taped a session of his own oral history of the museum. was one of those occasions. In it, Hoving gleefully bit the hand that had fed him, revealing lots of those naughty little secrets Montebello says the museum doesn't have. Shortly after the book came out, Arthur Rosenblatt b.u.mped into Montebello on a bus and the next day taped a session of his own oral history of the museum.
"He chatted about Tom Hoving [and] used language that is inappropriate and ... rough," Rosenblatt reported. When Rosenblatt observed that the museum store was selling Mummies Mummies, Montebello said, " 'I don't read fiction ... It's all lies ... He's a schmuck,' and he repeated it several times." Rosenblatt wasn't surprised. He, too, had been a target of Montebello's ire-and believed it lost him several museum jobs after he left the Met.115 Montebello also came up against Bill Luers. And ironically, he did it defending actions taken by Hoving. By the time Montebello took over the Met, the fights over the Euphronios krater and the Lydian h.o.a.rd had mostly been forgotten. The a.s.sumption was that they would be part of the Met's collection forever. So there was no hesitation on the museum's part to buy, in several transactions beginning in 1981, yet another batch of Greek antiquities from the dealer Robert Hecht, nor to accept the explanation that this "h.o.a.rd of silver vases and utensils," as Dietrich von Bothmer described it when they were first exhibited in 1984 as A Greek and Roman Treasury, had "presumably [been] found together a generation ago." A museum official claimed they'd come from Turkey and been legally imported from Switzerland.116 As the Met spokesman Harold Holzer put it many years later, "Our curators do not buy on the illicit market." As the Met spokesman Harold Holzer put it many years later, "Our curators do not buy on the illicit market."117 Malcolm Bell, a professor of cla.s.sical art and archaeology at the University of Virginia, thought he knew better, and was sure of it when he came face-to-face with some of the silver at the Met a few years later. After Bell began directing excavations at Morgantina, an ancient Greek city in central Sicily, he "heard rumors of the discovery of a silver service there," which had subsequently disappeared. Among the objects he'd heard were looted-for clandestine tomb robbing was a fact of life at Morgantina-were two distinctive miniature silver horns. So when he saw them in a display case at the Metropolitan in the fall of 1987, he "recognized them immediately," he says, and "put two and two together and notified the Metropolitan of that fact."
Bell and Bothmer exchanged several letters over the course of the next year. Bothmer "asked a mildly curious series of questions about the evidence we had," which "in retrospect were probably edited by legal counsel," Bell says, "then, silence. When I proposed that some be returned, he didn't respond."
The catalog for that 1984 exhibit included about fifty pieces of the Lydian h.o.a.rd. They'd also been spotted at the museum by Ozgen Acar, a Turkish journalist, who wrote an article about them, attracting the attention of the government in Ankara, which launched an investigation aided by Acar and another writer, Melik Kaylan, who was a.s.signed to the story by Tom Hoving at Connoisseur Connoisseur. Once they were convinced that the "East Greek Treasure" and the Lydian h.o.a.rd were one and the same, the Turks approached the Met, seeking its return. Montebello and Hawkins stonewalled.
The Turks enlisted the aid of several social figures in New York. One was Ahmet Ertegun, the Turkish-born music business mogul who'd become one of New York's leading social figures, running in the same circles as Annette and Sam Reed. "Ahmet talked to Ashton," recalls his widow, Mica Ertegun. "He was trying to find a solution agreeable to both sides" and suggested the Met give t.i.tle to the Turks while retaining possession. The museum refused.
Iris Love, the archaeologist who uncovered the fake Etruscan warriors, tried next. When she heard that the Turks were so upset they refused to speak to Montebello or Hawkins again, she proposed an end run to Luers, the Met's chief diplomat; surely he would see the light. He did and enlisted the help of d.i.c.k Dilworth, who brought the matter to the trustees.
"They were well on the way to a resolution," says John Macomber. But Hawkins insisted that the pressure would pa.s.s, as it always had, says an antiquities collector with family ties to the Met's ruling circle, and the board backed down. Montebello and Hawkins "wouldn't budge," says someone Luers later confided in. Unfortunately, the Turks weren't inclined to give up, either. They hired Harry Rand, the lawyer who won the first case in an American court in which a sovereign nation recovered stolen art. "[The museum] talked to us and said they wouldn't give the objects back," says Rand's then a.s.sociate Lawrence M. Kaye. "They were courteous but skeptical about the claim, and they said it had no merit and wouldn't honor it." So in May 1987, Turkey sued the Met.
After turning back a motion to dismiss the suit, Rand began the process known as discovery in 1990 and gained access to the museum's bas.e.m.e.nt, where some of the h.o.a.rd was still hidden in storage. An international team of archaeologists was allowed to examine all the material, which included wall paintings torn from tombs and an incense burner virtually identical to another that had been left behind by the tombaroli tombaroli in 1966. In Turkey, the team discovered that the paintings in the bas.e.m.e.nt fit the walls of one of the looted tombs like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. Fresh identifications of the objects in the Met by the looters themselves were another nail in the museum's coffin-Melik Kaylan brought one of the looters to the museum with a British TV crew, and on camera he identified the very pieces he'd found there. in 1966. In Turkey, the team discovered that the paintings in the bas.e.m.e.nt fit the walls of one of the looted tombs like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. Fresh identifications of the objects in the Met by the looters themselves were another nail in the museum's coffin-Melik Kaylan brought one of the looters to the museum with a British TV crew, and on camera he identified the very pieces he'd found there.118 The Met delivered the coup de grace itself when, in response to discovery demands, it handed over internal doc.u.ments, most crucially, acquisitions committee minutes indicating that the museum knew the h.o.a.rd was looted from Turkey. Those, Kaye says, "motivated the Metropolitan not to go to trial." The Met delivered the coup de grace itself when, in response to discovery demands, it handed over internal doc.u.ments, most crucially, acquisitions committee minutes indicating that the museum knew the h.o.a.rd was looted from Turkey. Those, Kaye says, "motivated the Metropolitan not to go to trial."
In 1992, museum officials suggested a settlement. They were willing, they said, to return some of the objects, but not all of them. The Turks refused. Finally, more than a year later, the Met accepted the inevitable. That fall, Sulzberger signed an agreement with Turkey that acknowledged its ownership of the Lydian h.o.a.rd, agreed to pay its legal fees, later estimated at $40 million, and promised to work together in the future to advance scholarship and cultural goodwill. A month later, the objects were returned to Turkey and put on display in Ankara.
Montebello was on the wrong side of history, but, still, he didn't back down. His imperious dismissal of the Turks was more than a defense of decisions made in the Hoving era; it was a betrayal of arrogance worthy of Hoving himself. Even after the loss of the Lydian h.o.a.rd, which he might have taken as a lesson in changing circ.u.mstances, his stiff-backed refusal to give so much as an inch when next confronted with cultural property claims was Hoving-esque, too. In his new role as journalist, Hoving himself had evolved, becoming an eager advocate for the source nations. Montebello felt he had to defend not just the Metropolitan but the Platonic ideal of the cosmopolitan museum as the protector of all mankind's past. He wasn't going to give things back-even if Hoving had bought them.
Finally, though, the truth did come out about Hoving's acquisition of the Euphronios krater and that mysterious silver service acquired right at the start of Montebello's reign. In The Medici Conspiracy The Medici Conspiracy, the journalists Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini recount how, in September 1995, Italian carabinieri and Swiss officials investigating the smuggling of ancient loot raided warehouses in the free port of Geneva that belonged to Giacomo Medici, a middleman dealing in antiquities that ended up in museum and private collections like those of the Met and of Leon Levy and his wife, Shelby White, who'd become a trustee in 1991. The raiders found thousands of artifacts and a trove of doc.u.ments and photographs that confirmed a vast and lucrative trade in looted antiquities.
A year later, the head of the Carabinieri Art Squad wrote to William Luers, asking for the return of the Morgantina silver. Ashton Hawkins replied, politely refusing. Copies of that correspondence somehow ended up in the hands of Robert Hecht, the dealer who'd sold the Met both the Morgantina h.o.a.rd and the hot pot.
In 1993, the Metropolitan had refused the archaeologist Malcolm Bell's request to closely examine the Morgantina objects. But four years later, working with the Italians, Bell discovered two fresh pits in the floor of an ancient house at the dig site in Morgantina-clear evidence of modern looting. He also found two coins in those pits: one dating back to 211 b.C., the year Morgantina was sacked by the Romans, when the silver would have been buried; the other, a 100-lira coin minted by Italy in 1978, the year it was dug up. With that evidence in hand, the Italians asked again if Bell could see the silver. "Again the Met refused," Watson wrote, "describing Bell as 'biased' and his arguments as 'untrustworthy.' " Finally, in 1999, Bell was allowed to see the h.o.a.rd, and found more evidence that it came from Morgantina. Simultaneously, the carabinieri produced a chain of ownership from the tombaroli tombaroli who'd found the silver and sold it for about $27,000 to a Swiss middleman who'd sold it to Hecht for $875,000, and on to the museum, which paid $3 million. who'd found the silver and sold it for about $27,000 to a Swiss middleman who'd sold it to Hecht for $875,000, and on to the museum, which paid $3 million.119 In 2000, Italian police raided Hecht's apartment in Paris, finding the two versions of Hecht's memoirs, with their varying accounts of the famed krater. More raids followed, including one at Medici's house north of Rome in 2002, where searchers found an alb.u.m of photographs with images of the Euphronios krater. The Met refused an Italian request to interview Bothmer, who'd officially retired in 1990 but remained at the museum. It ignored a similar invitation to Ashton Hawkins. But the investigation was gaining steam. In 2002, a U.S. court gave the Italians an important lever when it ruled that foreign governments could claim undoc.u.mented antiquities if they had laws barring their export and trade.
The prosecutors weren't looking only at the Met; they also investigated the Getty Museum in California, where Bothmer's counterpart was Marion True. Eight years after the investigation began, Giacomo Medici went on trial in December 2003, and eighteen months later was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to ten years in prison, the forfeiture of his antiquities, and tens of millions of dollars in fines and damages. His appeal is still pending. A few months after that, Hecht and True were put on trial, too, charged with conspiracy to traffic in looted objects. That case would continue even after the Getty agreed, late in 2007, after two years of negotiations, to return more than forty contested antiquities.
Simultaneous with that trial's start, Montebello finally opened talks with the Italians. Though several objects purchased by the Met figured in Medici's conviction, Montebello called the evidence inconclusive.120 Less than three months later, though, he did an about-face, "conceded that the standard of evidence he had demanded was unrealistic," in Watson's words, and agreed to return the krater, fifteen Morgantina objects, and four other vases to Italy. Less than three months later, though, he did an about-face, "conceded that the standard of evidence he had demanded was unrealistic," in Watson's words, and agreed to return the krater, fifteen Morgantina objects, and four other vases to Italy.
Next, the Italians turned their attention to the Met trustee Shelby White, whose collection included many pieces from Medici's inventory. White's first husband, an investment banker, had drowned on a fishing trip, and she subsequently married his boss, Leon Levy, the co-founder of Oppenheimer & Co., who became a pioneer in hedge funds. They started collecting antiquities in 1975, displaying them in their home on Sutton Place, where female guests were sometimes asked to leave their purses at the door.
Their willingness to share their art with others had the unintended effect of making White and Levy easy targets. After a 1990 show at the Met called Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, two British archaeologists did a study that concluded that 93 percent of the objects in that show lacked provenance. At best, that meant a loss for scholarship as no one would ever know where they came from or be able to place them in cultural context. At worst, it meant that they had been looted.
In 1995, when Levy turned seventy, he and White gave the museum $20 million toward new Greek and Roman galleries around the former Dorotheum, which was to be turned into a courtyard named for them; they also promised the loan of many of their antiquities. Levy died in 2003, so when the Italians turned the heat up just before the opening of those galleries in April 2007, White stood the pressure alone.
At the time, Michel van Rijn, a former smuggler turned anti-looting gadfly, said that secret talks were under way, and White was being pressured to make a deal in order to ensure that high-ranking diplomats of Italy and Greece appeared and blessed the opening of the new antiquities galleries with their presence. "Shelby has taken a firm stand," said van Rijn. "She wants to go down in history as a great philanthropist, not a looter." White's interests were not in sync with the museum's, though. They negotiated separately.
High-ranking diplomats did not, in fact, appear at the Met opening, and it took nine more months before there was any resolution, but in January 2008 White returned nine objects from her private collection to Italy, including her Euphronios vase, and agreed to eventually send back a tenth, while continuing to insist she had purchased them in good faith. In return she won praise for her "great sensitivity" and a promise that Italy would henceforth leave her alone.121 But soon Greece came calling, demanding the return of some of its property; White conceded, giving up a broken marble sculpture and a bronze vase. Was White's capitulation a confession of sorts? She has never fully explained her decision, beyond saying that she felt it appropriate. But soon Greece came calling, demanding the return of some of its property; White conceded, giving up a broken marble sculpture and a bronze vase. Was White's capitulation a confession of sorts? She has never fully explained her decision, beyond saying that she felt it appropriate.
PHILIPPE DE M MONTEBELLO'S REIGN AT THE M MET ENDED AS IT began-tangled up in the legacy of his predecessor. It's hard to follow any-one into a high-profile job, harder still to follow someone like the larger-than-life lightning rod Hoving. Long before he wrote his memoirs, Montebello had ample reason to resent him. But that wasn't Montebello's biggest Hoving problem. Despite his predecessor's role in creating the conditions that allowed him to become the museum's eighth director, Hoving was also responsible for the emasculation of that job, for the master plan that made it impossible for Montebello to build any monuments to himself, and, finally, for the antiquities mess, Montebello's own Waterloo. began-tangled up in the legacy of his predecessor. It's hard to follow any-one into a high-profile job, harder still to follow someone like the larger-than-life lightning rod Hoving. Long before he wrote his memoirs, Montebello had ample reason to resent him. But that wasn't Montebello's biggest Hoving problem. Despite his predecessor's role in creating the conditions that allowed him to become the museum's eighth director, Hoving was also responsible for the emasculation of that job, for the master plan that made it impossible for Montebello to build any monuments to himself, and, finally, for the antiquities mess, Montebello's own Waterloo.
Montebello was rightly hailed for his decision to return the Euphronios krater and other objects to Italy. Though he finally prevailed, Malcolm Bell, the excavator of Morgantina, felt Montebello had proceeded "with reluctance and ill grace." But how could it have been otherwise?
After yielding, Montebello sounded alternately defensive and peevish about his decision, disdainfully attacking cultural property activists-the people demanding the return of ancient art-as atavistic, sectarian hyper-nationalists and giving lectures and talks in which he declared himself a high priest of the Napoleonic religion of enlightened cosmopolitanism, defending the universal museum's role as the only proper guardian of the world's most precious relics. (Even if it happens that they were illegally looted.) "True, things are not always done, and have not always been done, correctly in the past," he admitted at a 2007 lecture at the Met. "Still ... [the] issue here is not the law, which must be obeyed, or fiefs that must be preserved; it is the current modus vivendi in cultural matters which is beholden to a new political correctness born of a fierce nationalism, and which has dramatically changed the natural order. Those of us who believe in the benefits of cosmopolitanism, interconnections, and the cross-fertilization of ideas, which is of course what the world's cultures reflect, see this new chauvinism doing a great disservice to mankind." He was convinced it had done him a disservice, too. And that obviously gnawed at him. Earlier, at a meeting of a society of museum directors in the summer of 2006, Montebello was overheard lamenting, "I'll be known for only one thing, giving things back, giving things back." back."
To his credit, though, Montebello did proceed, however reluctantly. And to his his credit, William Luers, though furious over the way he'd been treated and the cost to the museum, never said, "I told you so." But neither did he forgive Montebello and Hawkins for sidelining him when diplomacy was called for. In 1998, as Malcolm Bell's new evidence came to light, Luers announced his retirement. A few months later, having secured a new position as chairman of a support group for the United Nations, he accelerated his departure and left the premises, vowing never to attend another museum party. credit, William Luers, though furious over the way he'd been treated and the cost to the museum, never said, "I told you so." But neither did he forgive Montebello and Hawkins for sidelining him when diplomacy was called for. In 1998, as Malcolm Bell's new evidence came to light, Luers announced his retirement. A few months later, having secured a new position as chairman of a support group for the United Nations, he accelerated his departure and left the premises, vowing never to attend another museum party.122 "Philippe never gave him an inch of credit," says John Macomber. History likely will.
IT MUST HAVE RANKLED B BILL L LUERS WHEN A ASHTON HAWKINS, his nemesis in the antiquities struggle, threw his hat into the ring for Luers's job. Hawkins felt he'd put in his time and, as the Met's best widow walker since Ted Rousseau, deserved the position. "Dilworth told him he couldn't have it because he was gay," says a former Geldzahler aide.
Some felt Hawkins had sabotaged his own ambitions. Not only was he gay, but he broadcast that fact "among sophisticated worldly people who thought it was fine to be gay as long as you never talked about it," says one of his lovers, a little bitterly. "Ashton wrecked his own chances," the Geldzahler aide agrees, noting what others confirm: "He was drinking a lot in those days," and word got around. He took to showing up at private parties with "three, five, ten gay men" in tow; they were dubbed the Ashtonettes. On the subject of Hawkins, the centennial planner George Trescher would paraphrase the poet Lord Alfred Douglas: "The love that dare not speak its name won't shut up." But others believe that another gay man could have had the job. Hawkins, whose bloodlines ran back to Colonial times, who had gone to the right schools and had waited his turn, "had been there too long," says the Met watcher. "He was a throwback to the era when the job was about lunch and coddling."
Hawkins was kicked upstairs to executive vice president. He stayed at the museum until 2001, but friends say he paid less attention. "He'd spend five weeks in Greece," at a house he shared with the Cloisters curator Tim Husband, "take three-day weekends, summer was from April until Thanks-giving," says a city official. "They screwed him, so he could do what he wanted."
Luers and Punch Sulzberger both retired on November 11, 1998. Sulzberger was replaced by James "Jamie" Houghton, Arthur Houghton's nephew, who'd been a cla.s.smate of Montebello's at Harvard. Luers was succeeded by David E. McKinney, the first non-diplomat to take the paid presidency. A thirty-six-year veteran of IBM and right-hand man of Thomas J. Watson Jr., the son of its founder, McKinney, sixty-four, had retired from the computer giant in 1992. "Other than taking art cla.s.ses and visiting museums," Sulzberger's newspaper noted, McKinney had no background in art. Like McKinney, Houghton was a colorless manager. Simultaneously, Montebello was named chief executive officer, putting him firmly in charge of the museum after two decades as its director. It was a tribute to his patience, as much as to his skills, that he finally restored the director's traditional power.
ASIDE FROM DEALING WITH MONTEBELLO, THE GREATEST DIFFICULTY William Luers faced in his tenure as museum president was the huge cut in public funding that followed the stock market crash of 1987 and continued into the recession of the early 1990s. In June 1991, when Ed Koch's successor, David d.i.n.kins, kicked off a museum festival on Fifth Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum of Art sat unlit and closed down, having withdrawn in protest against a staggering $3.5 million cut in city funding, set to take effect in the 1992 fiscal year, with more cuts expected. William Luers faced in his tenure as museum president was the huge cut in public funding that followed the stock market crash of 1987 and continued into the recession of the early 1990s. In June 1991, when Ed Koch's successor, David d.i.n.kins, kicked off a museum festival on Fifth Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum of Art sat unlit and closed down, having withdrawn in protest against a staggering $3.5 million cut in city funding, set to take effect in the 1992 fiscal year, with more cuts expected.123 That year, New York State reduced its support of the museum, too, as conservatives in Congress attacked the National Endowment for the Arts. Luers worried that public financing for the museum might disappear altogether. That year, New York State reduced its support of the museum, too, as conservatives in Congress attacked the National Endowment for the Arts. Luers worried that public financing for the museum might disappear altogether.124 Deficits at the Met were climbing. Though the board had raised enough capital funds to cover its debt service and the museum had posted surpluses in the 1980s, in the 19891990 fiscal year it had a $2.6 million shortfall before debt payments. With those factored in, the deficit nearly doubled. To stanch the bleeding, the Metropolitan began shutting galleries, inst.i.tuted a hiring freeze, and halted salary increases for nonunion employees. Luers told the Times Times that the Metropolitan would do without washing its windows, a $120,000-a-year luxury it could no longer afford. that the Metropolitan would do without washing its windows, a $120,000-a-year luxury it could no longer afford.125 But as so often in the past, private money rode to the rescue. In 1992, gifts and grants for non-exhibition purposes rose almost $2 million, to $18.4 million, while funding for special exhibitions increased by $1.1 million, to $6.3 million; private gifts topped city support for the first time and have remained the main funding source ever since. Annual giving through the Corporate Patron Program was $2 million in 1987. In 1992, the last year for which figures were broken out, the committee raised $2.41 million. In return, the corporate committee hosted benefit dinner dances for patrons. Brooke Astor was feted in 1989, and in 1991 the benefit honored the chairman of the Lila WallaceReader's Digest Fund.
Another innovation was an aggressive international fund-raising effort. In 1989, Dr. Rokuro Ishikawa, head of the Kajima Corporation, a big j.a.panese construction company, was named to run the museum's International Business Committee. In February 1993, Luers accompanied Mayor d.i.n.kins on a goodwill visit to j.a.pan. The Metropolitan's annual report that year notes a continued focus on "a more global approach to fund-raising." Ishikawa was ensnared in a bribery and bid-rigging scandal after it was revealed that his company had given tens of millions of yen to government officials in return for preferential treatment in the awarding of public works projects. Ishikawa was never charged, but he resigned from his posts at the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Postal Service Council in disgrace.126 He remained chairman of the museum's International Business Committee, however, and then chairman emeritus until his death in 2005. He remained chairman of the museum's International Business Committee, however, and then chairman emeritus until his death in 2005.
City funding of the museum eventually inched back up, but less than one-third of the 1992 cuts were restored. In August 1993, the Met issued $63.8 million in tax-exempt bonds to refinance the outstanding $40.5 million debt left from an earlier bond, saving $700,000 annually in interest payments and providing an additional $22.1 million in financing for capital projects. In the same period, private gifts continued to rise, nearly doubling the museum's endowment but, more significantly, returning the museum to what it had been at its founding: a private club.
The displacement of public capital by private funds was reflected in decreasing transparency. As public funding declined, so did the museum's obligation to accountability. Annual meetings of the corporation became public relations exercises; at one recent board meeting before the annual charade, Jamie Houghton suggested trustees attend only if they wanted to be thoroughly bored. So, aside from the handful of NIMBY neighbors upset by traffic, crowds, and noise and fearful of more surrept.i.tious expansion, there was no one left to call the museum to account.
Emily Rafferty would shortly replace David McKinney and become the Met's first woman president; her fortunes rose in lockstep with the museum's new focus on fund-raising. Her mother, she once told a Vogue Vogue reporter, was related "to the Livingstons and Peabodys and all that." reporter, was related "to the Livingstons and Peabodys and all that."127 Her Irish-Catholic father had grown up in society during the Depression and became a senior partner at the law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn. In 1958, when its client John Hay "Jock" Whitney took over the Her Irish-Catholic father had grown up in society during the Depression and became a senior partner at the law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn. In 1958, when its client John Hay "Jock" Whitney took over the New York Herald Tribune New York Herald Tribune, he was named to its board of directors. Emily was raised in a large family on Park Avenue and attended the chic Convent of the Sacred Heart and Chapin schools. Montebello's wife, Edith, was her ninth-grade math teacher. A 1967 debutante, she went to Pine Manor Junior College and graduated from Boston College in 1971.
Though she majored in African and Middle Eastern history, she went to work as an a.s.sistant to David Rockefeller Jr., a Boston arts philanthropist. After a brief stint at Boston's Inst.i.tute of Contemporary Art, she moved to the Met in 1976 as a secretary in the still-new development (that is, fund-raising) department, shortly before marrying an accountant, John Rafferty. She was promoted to manager in 1981, the museum's first female vice president in 1984, senior vice president in 1996. She was energetic, efficient, driven, and a natural at fund-raising. "It ... helps if the person doing the fund-raising comes from a social or a money background that allows you to sit at the table as a quasi-equal, which she can do, which I can do," an admiring Montebello has said.128 When Luers retired, Rafferty's domain was renamed external affairs, encompa.s.sing development, sponsorships, and memberships, and she was made staff liaison to a trustee committee chaired by Michael Bloomberg, the information-technology billionaire and future mayor of New York, and put in charge of the Internet task force developing the museum's Web site.
THERE HAD BEEN A CHARISMA VACUUM AT THE TOP OF THE Metropolitan's hierarchy for years, and in the Montebello era Diana Vreeland and company filled it, adjusting the tone of the place, changing the face it showed to the world, altering how people perceived it subtly but steadily. The writer William Norwich would cleverly dub the phenomenon Club Met. This latest iteration of the museum as a social center of gravity emerged in the early 1980s and remains in place today, a by-product of the Met's ever-more-elaborate fund-raising process. Metropolitan's hierarchy for years, and in the Montebello era Diana Vreeland and company filled it, adjusting the tone of the place, changing the face it showed to the world, altering how people perceived it subtly but steadily. The writer William Norwich would cleverly dub the phenomenon Club Met. This latest iteration of the museum as a social center of gravity emerged in the early 1980s and remains in place today, a by-product of the Met's ever-more-elaborate fund-raising process.
Down in the bas.e.m.e.nt, Diana Vreeland had been running a semiautonomous operation ever since her first shows in the early 1970s. When Montebello took over, Vreeland's friends fretted that he would disdain her frivolity. "Wrong!" says Katell le Bourhis, who would shortly become her chief aide. As she came to understand his concept of balancing scholarship, accessibility, and "events to bring in enough money to support all the costly endeavors," Vreeland grew comfortable with her place in his "modern museum," Bourhis says. "Tom Hoving had a vision, but he couldn't realize it. Everyone was pulling in a separate direction. Philippe had the capacity to bring it together." The Costume Inst.i.tute would be central to that process.
"The moment she arrived, she was the editor of Vogue Vogue again," says Stuart Silver, who watched as Vreeland secured her position with a series of blockbuster shows, beginning in 1974 with Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design, which Silver designed. "Talk about the opposite of the curatorial mentality! She had an open bottle of scotch on her desk, she lacquered her hair once a week, she had a red smear of a mouth. And that voice! I thought she was a clown, but she was very smart and very wise and just went full out." again," says Stuart Silver, who watched as Vreeland secured her position with a series of blockbuster shows, beginning in 1974 with Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design, which Silver designed. "Talk about the opposite of the curatorial mentality! She had an open bottle of scotch on her desk, she lacquered her hair once a week, she had a red smear of a mouth. And that voice! I thought she was a clown, but she was very smart and very wise and just went full out."
Emboldened by her initial success and surrounded by a group of eager volunteers whose only payment was the chance to be in her presence, Vreeland ignored Stella Blum and her scholarly ways, calling her chief curator "the old one," and set out to get people talking by having American designers secretly reconstruct famous screen dresses that had long since disappeared. "She didn't have any curatorial sense," the Council of Fashion Designers of America founder Eleanor Lambert told Vreeland's biographer Ellie Dwight. "No curator of an art exhibition would ever put a fake in it." But the crowds didn't care, and neither did the press. The costumes had "been worn by the stars of the silver screen," the gossip Suzy wrote, reporting on Jane Engelhard's opening-night party for "500 hand-picked people," Mick and Bianca Jagger among them. They dined in a salon decorated by the power wives Mica Ertegun and Chessy Rayner before they were joined for c.o.c.ktails by another 1,300, among them Cher, "who made dead sure she was noticed by wearing nothing under her transparent chiffon pajamas."129 "She invited her friends, her world," says Bourhis. "It was international cafe society." Vreeland unveiled her most powerful weapon at her 1976 show, The Glory of Russian Costume. Jacqueline Ona.s.sis, just widowed for the second time, had always shied away from public display, but she not only served as chairman of that Party of the Year; she published the exhibition catalog, the first book she commissioned in her new job as an editor at Viking Press. The former first lady not only accompanied Vreeland to the Soviet Union while she was preparing the show (one of the five exchange exhibits negotiated by Hoving); she also helped overcome Soviet resistance to loaning objects once owned by the czars. A year later, Ona.s.sis wrote an introduction to the catalog for Vanity Fair: Treasure Trove of the Costume Inst.i.tute, a sort of greatest-hits show. Surveying the two thousand guests at that Party of the Year, Stella Blum sagely observed that "fashion cannot exist without a leisure cla.s.s."130 Neither could museums. Neither could museums.
The fates of fashion and the Metropolitan were increasingly entwined. Vreeland's 1980 show, The Manchu Dragon: Costumes of China, followed by a mere three months a China-themed promotional blitz by Bloomingdale's, the trendy New York department store, where several of the robes the Met later showed were first displayed, reprising the 1947 Costume Inst.i.tute show,