End of a legacy

monte190.jpgThe New York Times today announced the impending retirement of Philippe de Montebello from the directorship of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a post he’s held to great acclaim for over thirty years:

A patrician figure whose mellifluous multilingual voice on the museum’s audio guides is known to millions of visitors around the world, he is the eighth and longest-serving director in the institution’s 138-year history.

Mr. de Montebello, 71, has more than doubled the museum’s physical size during his tenure, carving out majestic new galleries suited to the Met’s encyclopedic holdings. Today it is the city’s biggest tourist attraction, with millions of visitors a year.

In its own way, his retirement marks the end of an era in the art museum world, where the aristocratic image of a museum director has become somewhat of an anachronism. As an intern at the Met a decade ago I met de Montebello, and recall the odd contrast between the interns’ casual (even grubby) cheerfulness and the director’s rounded tones! Nevertheless, not all is change within the museum world: it’s striking to note the complete absence of women in the NY Times’ list of possible successors to de Montebello, especially given the extreme gender imbalance in most art history and arts management university programmes today…