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Raphael rap from Brit Met chap

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Will Gompertz | 08:56 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

A picture of him is currently hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. He is the director of one of the world's most prestigious and revered arts institutions. He has cleared the highest of career hurdles: he's a Brit who has made it in New York.

Thomas P Campbell of the Met

Yet the chances are you have never heard of Thomas Campbell, the boss of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He took over 18 months ago having joined the Met in 1995 as a curator with expertise in tapestries.

In many ways he is the typical museum director, dressed in a well-cut suit, wearing highly-polished shoes and hair arranged with a definite side parting - he would not look out of place in an officers' mess or an upscale estate agency.

But beneath the conservative attire and caressed vowels lurks a man with a mission and refreshing directness. The Raphael tapestries currently hanging alongside the V&A's cartoons of the same are poorly hung, he says.

In the exhibition they have been risen six feet off the ground, although they were designed by Raphael to brush the floor of the Sistine Chapel. To hang them floating in the air denies the visitor the chance to see the artworks in all their glory, says Campbell. He doesn't think they are lit terribly well either.

Raphel

He is equally forthright about his own position. He is only the ninth director of the Met since it opened, his predecessor having stayed in post for over 30 years. He says that if he had thought about how the staff might react to a new boss and the weight of public expectation, he would not have accepted the job.

He also suspects the offer only came his way once the British Museum's Neil MacGregor had turned it down, but that this has never been confirmed or denied to him.

Given that he is in charge, though, he has a clear plan: extend the reach of the Met to those communities that surround the museum but do not visit. He thinks the answer lies in judicious use of the internet and new technology.

Before he could start on Operation Diversity, he had to sort out the museum he inherited, reeling after the credit crunch, which caused its finances to shrink by 10%. In this interview with me for the Today programme he explains how he sorted out the problems and says that we - that is, Europeans - don't know how lucky we are.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Will Gompertz.

    "He [Thomas Campbell] is only the ninth director of the Met since it opened, his predecessor having stayed in post for over 30 years. He says that if he had thought about how the staff might react to a new boss and the weight of public expectation, he would not have accepted the job."

    why is it that we are always so indulgent when we're clearly being lied to?

    no one with the required educational and professional background to become "boss of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York" would accept such a position without giving it due consideration and "thought", so why did you accept his statement?

  • Comment number 2.

    When was this interview broadcast? Thank you.

 

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