2017-02-28 17:20:03
Metropolitan Museum’s Director Resigns Under Pressure

Thomas P. Campbell resigned under pressure on Tuesday as the director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after months of growing complaints among staff members and some trustees about the institution’s financial health and his capacity to lead the largest museum in the country.

“I have decided to step down from my role as Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to pursue the next phase of my career,” Mr. Campbell, 54, said in a letter sent to board and staff members on Tuesday. “I couldn’t be more proud of The Met’s accomplishments during my tenure.”

The Met said that Mr. Campbell would stay on until June, the end of the fiscal year, but that Daniel H. Weiss, 59, the Met’s president and chief operating officer, would serve as interim chief executive, working with Mr. Campbell and the museum’s leadership work on a transition plan while the museum searches for a successor.

“We are not looking to appoint a new director immediately,” said Daniel Brodsky, the museum’s chairman, in a separate letter, “but instead will take some time to consider the leadership needs of the museum in a thoughtful and deliberative way.”

The Met said that Mr. Campbell had made the decision to leave the job he has held for eight years. But the circumstances surrounding Mr. Campbell’s planned departure point to his being forced out. Over the last couple of years, despite the museum’s record attendance, much of his original agenda was rolled back because of the museum’s economic difficulties, including a soaring deficit.

There were buyouts and layoffs; the digital staff he built up had to be pared down. His plan to construct a new $600 million wing for Modern and contemporary art — intended for the museum’s 150th anniversary in 2020 — was postponed indefinitely. Several of his key hires were let go.

Mr. Weiss, formerly the president of Haverford College, was hired, which was viewed by many inside the Met as a way to bring in an experienced administrator to compensate for Mr. Campbell’s managerial inexperience and to correct his mistakes.

Indeed, when Mr. Weiss came on board, he quickly announced that the Met would be facing a $40 million deficit were it not able to address spiraling costs swiftly and try to build revenue.

Just how an institution as august and professional as the Met found itself in a state of financial emergency in a time of a strong economy became the subject of considerable public consternation; some of the blame inevitably fell on Mr. Campbell as chief executive.

“To have inherited a museum as strong as the Met was 10 years ago — with a great curatorial staff — and to have it be what it is today is unimaginable,” George R. Goldner, a former longtime head curator at the Met told The New York Times in an article published in early February, calling it “a great institution in decline.”

Several other curators who declined to be interviewed out of fear for their jobs echoed these concerns in the article, as did several board members.

But many people inside and outside the Met have also questioned the role of the board in the Met’s difficulties, given that trustees are ultimately charged with guarding the financial health of an institution.

It was the board, after all, that had backed Mr. Campbell’s decision to take on a temporary expansion into the Met Breuer building (which cost about $15 million to refurbish after the Whitney Museum of American Art vacated the premises and costs $17 million a year to run). The board also approved Mr. Campbell’s efforts to bulk up the museum’s digital staff and to hire prominent executives to lead the marketing and digital departments, who were ultimately let go.

Indeed, the board promoted Mr. Campbell with a mandate to strengthen the museum’s Modern and contemporary art activities. Without that commitment, the understanding goes, the Met would not have succeeded in securing Leonard A. Lauder’s game-changing gift of Cubist artworks, valued at more than $1 billion, which require a worthy exhibition space.

To be sure, it seems that much of Mr. Campbell’s demise could be attributed to a culture clash — to his trying “to bring the museum into the 21st century” as he often said, without properly accounting for the internal conflict that might result.

Perhaps most critically, he failed to build a strong base of internal support for his agenda of change, leaving many employees — and even some trustees — feeling angry and alienated. Curators were asked to curtail spending for shows and acquisitions. And the Met announced plans to cut back its programming to about 40 exhibitions a year from about 60, an ambitious schedule even for the Met.

The degree to which Mr. Campbell lost ground with curators was particularly striking, given that he came from their ranks, having spent 15 years at the museum as a tapestry specialist before succeeding Philippe de Montebello as the director in January 2009.

But the Met also has had critical and popular success under Mr. Campbell, seeing its attendance rise, when including the Cloisters, to about 7 million visitors a year. And the Met Breuer, which opened in March, has drawn 557,000 visitors — more than projected — exceeding the Whitney’s annual attendance in that building.

Moreover, the Met has had many acclaimed exhibitions under Mr. Campbell, including “Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World” last year and “Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven” last fall, which Holland Cotter of The Times said captured “the complex sensations” of that holy city.

And despite mixed reviews of the Met Breuer’s first show, “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” its recent Kerry James Marshall survey was widely considered groundbreaking.

While it is not unusual at New York art institutions for directors to leave reluctantly, this has not been true at the Met for 40 years, since Thomas Hoving stepped down in 1977 after a decade in the job. His replacement, Mr. de Montebello, held his job as director for 31 years.

While many people in the art world have speculated about who might replace Mr. Campbell, no clear leading candidates have so far surfaced, given the job’s unusually challenging brief as an encyclopedic museum in financial straits, and one that is also trying to reach new audiences and get hip.

Among the names floated is that of Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Glenn Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art — both of whom are currently engaged in their own major building projects. But they specialize in modern and contemporary art, and the Met seems ambivalent about how much to commit to that area (if, indeed, they were even interested in the job).

Others inside and outside the Met have wondered whether Mr. Weiss might succeed Mr. Campbell, given that he has proved proficient as a financial steward and steadying force and is well-liked by the staff. In addition to an M.B.A., Mr. Weiss earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in Western Medieval and Byzantine Art with a minor in Classical Greek Art and Architecture.

According to a senior executive in the art world with knowledge of the board’s thinking on the succession plan, who refused to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, the trustees intend to use the next few months to see if Mr. Weiss is up to the job.