1. NEW YORL BLOUINARTINFO - Michael E. Shapiro is an expert on arts administration. Not only did he serve as director (now Director Emeritus) of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta for 20 years, he also wrote a book about the job, titled "Eleven Museums, Eleven Directors: Conversations on Art and Leadership." In it, Shapiro interviews the leaders of some of the top art institutions in the country — including Glenn Lowry, Director of MoMA; and Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, to name a few — to pick their brains about what it means to lead a museum today.
The book, released just over a year ago, is particularly relevant today, following the recent resignation of Thomas Campbell, who stepped down from his position as the director of the most prominent museum in the country, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, under mounting pressure from both the museum board and scrutiny from the public.
Shapiro sat down with ARTINFO to break down the unique challenges Museum Directors face in the 21st century.
The Biggest Challenges Facing Museum Director’s Today
“Art museums are among the most revered institutions in our country,” said Shapiro. Because of that, they’re also under the microscope. “There is risk, regardless of the size or scope of the intuition. The level of expectations—and the level of complexity—that come along with the job of director of a large museum, has increased dramatically. With more success comes more expectation.”
Here are the three biggest challenges Shapiro believes confront directors today:
Old vs. Young
“Museum directors face many exciting challenges. One of the biggest is conveying a sense of inclusiveness, which includes animating and attracting the millennials while also assisting the older generations in continuing a massive transfer in wealth from individuals to institutions—in other words, growing the endowment.”
“Directors need to embrace technology as a vehicle for speaking to and attracting audiences to the museum, without undercutting the special experience of the immediate and direct work of art.”
The Fundraising Dance
“Even well-endowed institutions like the Met find themselves needing additional financial resources to continue fulfilling their mission. Supplying those resources, providing a vision for the future, animating and embracing the staff and all its diverse interests, and keeping the board happy by running a tight fiscal ship—it’s all a part of doing the dance that directors now have to do.”
What makes present museum directors' challenges different than the past?
Museums today are not the same as they were 20, 10, or even five years ago. The same can be said of the job of a museum director. Shapiro identifies three major ways in which museum directors' challenges are different today than they were in the past:
“The essentials of effectively running a museum: a dynamic and stimulating program, important acquisitions, successful fundraising, a healthy balance sheet, sustained attendance and membership growth have not changed. But the instant, international communication of these activities and the opportunity for widespread comment and assessment both locally and internationally is still a powerful new phenomenon.”
“Figuring out how to maintain engagement between the museum and its programs and younger, more distracted audiences is a major challenge. Social media and digital tools have a role to play for this constituency and others, but it's an area that is still being developed.”
“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, museums more than ever before need to effectively and deeply connect with their diverse communities.”
2. NEW YORK Wall Street Journal - A New Plan at the Metropolitan Museum
After the ouster of the Met museum head, interim chief Daniel Weiss to present sweeping overhaul
By Kelly Crow
March 21, 2017 2:58 p.m. ET
Amid a dramatic management shake-up at the top of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this month, interim chief executive Daniel Weiss is moving in with a sweeping plan to balance the budget and provide a road map for renovations.
The plan, to be presented to the Met’s board of directors on Wednesday, could amount to an audition by Mr. Weiss for the top job at the nation’s premier encyclopedic museum.
A 59-year-old former head of Haverford College in Pennsylvania, Mr. Weiss was hired by the Met two years ago as president. He took over as interim chief executive March 1 after director and former chief executive Tom Campbell resigned under pressure.
Daniel Brodsky, the Met’s chairman, said the museum is “lucky to have him,” though he said a search committee will still be formed at some point to find a new director—even if Mr. Weiss is eventually tapped for the post. No time frame has been given to launch the search. Mr. Campbell remains director until June 30.
The Met, which has two million objects and hosted seven million visitors last year, has been in turmoil since last spring when the museum said it was struggling to close a $15 million deficit that could balloon to $40 million if cost-cutting measures weren’t enacted quickly. Mr. Campbell laid off workers and pared exhibits over the past six months—but when those efforts fell short of solving problems and criticism continued to mount, Mr. Campbell resigned.
Mr. Weiss said recently that the overall thrust of his plan is to cut costs—and still grow—at a reasonable pace. “This ship was going a little too fast and turned a little too quickly,” Mr. Weiss said, sitting in his airy office that overlooks Manhattan’s Central Park and is decorated with a wintry scene by Alfred Sisley. “I don’t lose sleep over our ability to manage it.”
Specifically, Mr. Weiss said he intends to tell the board that he can close the $15 million deficit in the museum’s $398 million budget over the next two or three years by postponing exhibits and trimming back-office costs while pushing for higher revenue from the museum’s gift shops and restaurants. He isn’t planning on more layoffs following a string of nearly 100 staff cuts over the past year.
‘If [museums] don’t change and grow, they’re accused of losing relevance. If they do, they have to justify every dime,’
—Nik Honeysett, Getty Museum, former head of administration
Mr. Weiss said he plans to suggest that the museum tackle several renovation projects one at a time, rather than attempt to overlap them. First up, he will advocate for a “decidedly unsexy” project to replace 60,000 square feet of 1930s-era skylights that are at risk of leaking above the museum’s European art galleries, he said. Cost: $140 million. Mr. Weiss also will champion a roughly $20 million renovation of the museum’s British galleries, a $5 million face-lift for its musical instrument galleries and seek bids to renovate its African wing, a job he thinks could cost around $60 million.
One thing his proposal on Wednesday won't revive is any mention of the museum’s stalled, $600-million campaign to expand its southwest section into a bigger area for contemporary art—an effort that wilted last year after fundraising proved scarce. The museum’s newer art could go back into a spruced-up version of its current spot known as the Wallace wing—or continue to funnel into exhibits planned in its leased Met Breuer space, Mr. Weiss said.
Leonard Lauder, who four years ago pledged $1 billion worth of cubist art to the museum, also seems to have thrown his weight behind Mr. Weiss, calling him “very good at his job.” Mr. Lauder said he recently agreed to host several groups of curators at his New York apartment to reassure them that his promised gift isn’t in jeopardy because of the stalled contemporary-art wing, Mr. Campbell’s departure or concerns about the Met’s finances.
The Met’s gift shops bring in around $50 million, or roughly $7 a visitor, but the new plan calls for tripling those sales.
The Met’s gift shops bring in around $50 million, or roughly $7 a visitor, but the new plan calls for tripling those sales. Photo: Brett Beyer
“The Met has seen its ups and downs and its directors come and go,” Mr. Lauder said, but the only things visitors ever remember are the prized pieces on display within it. “If you ask people who is running the Louvre right now, who can name the guy? But they all know the Mona Lisa,” he added.
Mr. Weiss has already embarked on a series of budget cuts, and museum executives and rank and file say they’re still adjusting to the new austerity. For example, Melanie Holcomb, curator of medieval art, said she had to cut “a significant slice” of her roughly $3 million budget for a show last year about Jerusalem, including canceling some art loans.
Employees have also been instructed to wring more sales from the Met’s restaurants, which brought in $24 million last fiscal year. Will Manzer, the former president of Perry Ellis’s menswear division, has been hired to overhaul the Met’s eight gift stores, in part by manufacturing new product lines. (Hint: Expect more items for men, like Met-branded cuff links and watches.) Mr. Manzer said the gift shops bring in around $50 million, or roughly $7 a visitor, but he said he’s trying to triple those sales.
Among New York’s art establishment, Mr. Weiss is still something of a newcomer. Born in Newark, one of his first jobs was managing a museum shop in Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Later, he earned degrees in art history (he likes Byzantine art and Greek sculpture) from Johns Hopkins University and business administration from Yale.
At the nucleus of the Met controversy is that $15 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, but the Met’s past annual reports suggest deficits of $4 million to $8 million are commonplace. The museum hasn’t had to siphon from its $2.5 billion endowment to pay operating expenses, a move that nearly sank the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles a few years ago. And in terms of fundraising, the museum said it has raised roughly $850 million over the past five-and-a-half years—an average of $150 million a year.
Other major encyclopedic museums also reported budget shortfalls last year including the Louvre Museum in Paris, which said it suffered a $10 million loss, and London’s Tate Museum, whose income fell 30% last year to $193 million compared with the previous year. Both museums also saw attendance drops, with visitors falling off 15% at the Louvre and 20% at the Tate. By contrast, attendance at the Met grew last year to seven million, up 400,000 visitors from 2015.
The Met could take a few cues from the Art Institute of Chicago, which has a smaller, $650 million endowment but ended the last fiscal year with a $7.3 million surplus.
Museum experts say the Met’s size and role—its assets more than double that of Washington’s National Gallery of Art, for example—can be a mixed blessing, putting its every misstep into sharp relief. Brian Ferriso, director of the Portland Art Museum and president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, said Mr. Weiss’s change-agent plan could thrust him into a position he may not ultimately want. “Can he move it forward? He might find more flexibility at a small museum,” Mr. Ferriso said.
Nik Honeysett, the Getty Museum’s former head of administration, agreed, saying the director role can be prestigious, yet thankless. “Museums are damned if they do change and damned if they don’t,” Mr. Honeysett said. “If they don’t change and grow, they’re accused of losing relevance; if they do, they have to justify every dime.”
3. NEW YORK Wall Street Journal By Edward Rothstein March 21, 2017 4:56 p.m. ET
Of all that has been imagined of the afterlife, probably nothing comes close to the scene at a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History, in which unburied dead of the past 7,000 years keep posthumous company with each other, laid out in display cases, coffined or wrapped or half unwrapped, accompanied by vessels of preserved organs or relics like a sewing bobbin. One body is bundled in coarse cloth and held together with rope, another is encased in gilt magnificence; one woman is bound with two children, another corpse is left with only a head after ancient grave robbers hastily tore it apart looking for jewelry; and these remains share space with a preserved ibis, crocodile and cat.
The dead almost always inspire awe; they are reflections of what we all become, or demonstrations—in this case—of how some, of different times and places, imagined they might live on. “Mummies” (through Jan. 7, 2018) is an exhibition in which some 18 individuals (or parts of them) are brought into light or can be peered at and maneuvered on touch-screens showing CT scans. And the effect is powerful. We are not looking at a simulacrum of death, but are in its presence. We see one seventh century B.C. Egyptian who, 100 years ago, was unwrapped either “for science or spectacle”: His head was detached. It now lies in place, but the half-wrapped figure still cannot be looked at without some voyeuristic embarrassment: We can scarcely tell where aged linen gives way to desiccated flesh and ancient bone.
This exhibition gives its charges a more technologically subtle unveiling, and in some cases the results are revelatory. The procedures do not distance these bodies from us, but bring us closer to their lives. DNA testing gives us information about their diet. Forensic analysis diagnoses diseases like tuberculosis. In 1977, only four years after being introduced to hospitals, CT scanners (one is on display) began to be applied to the long dead. In one mummified bundle containing a child preserved aabout 1,000 years ago by the Chancay culture in Peru, a scanner disclosed several small figurines. Without ever opening the sack in which the child’s body is hunched in a crouch as in many Peruvian mummies, the figurines (grave offerings? playthings?) are presented to us, produced by 3D printer from scans. On touch-screens you can rotate those objects along with bundles of human remains, then instantly pass through layers of wrapping, or take slices as if using a digital scalpel.
This exhibition originated at the Field Museum in Chicago and includes some mummies that had not been seen displayed since the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. There have been other traveling exhibitions of mummies in recent years—one, “Mummies of the World,” from American Exhibitions Inc. (now at the Houston Museum of Natural Science), is more wide-ranging, theatrical and commercial. But here a weakness—of overly tight focus—is also a strength; the exhibition angles away from sensation and toward scientific investigation, treating two cultural realms in which mummification took place over thousands of years. Ancient Egypt is the more familiar; pre-Columbian Peru has become the focus only in recent decades.
Top row: This highly decorated coffin contains a boy of about 14 years old, who died around 250 BC in the Ptolemaic era of ancient Egypt. CT scanning and subsequent 3D imaging reveal that the teenager was placed into a coffin that was too large for him. Bottom row: More CT scanning and subsequent 3D imaging. With the CT scans and a 3D-printed reconstruction of the skull, French artist Elisabeth Daynès began creating a sculpture to depict what the boy looked like. The completed, hyper-realistic sculpture by artist Elisabeth Daynès recreates the teenage boy who was mummified centuries ago.Photos: The Field Museum(3); Elisabeth Daynès, Paris(2)
The oldest mummies from Peru were created by the Chinchorro culture (c. 5000-2000 B.C.) some two millennia before those of the ancient Egyptians. None of these rare, fragile specimens are on display, though we learn something about their creation. While the Egyptians tended to leave the structure of their dead intact, removing the organs and embalming the remains, the Chinchorro apparently took their dead apart, tanned the skin, and pieced them back together using reeds and clay. The Egyptians believed they were preparing the elite dead for the afterlife, but mummies in many Peruvian cultures played a regular role among the living.
Much of this requires guesswork, particularly because in Peruvian cases no systems of writing have come to light. In one display case here, we see a Peruvian skull from the Nazca culture (from the first eight centuries A.D.) with a hole bored through its forehead that would have once been threaded with rope to attach it to a belt—as shown on a Nazca pot. Such skulls were once believed to be “war trophies,” but DNA analysis shows they were of the same culture of the people who wore them (which doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t trophies).
Scanning and DNA analysis also disclosed various anomalies we see in the exhibition, including a young Egyptian man mummified around 250 B.C. and then placed in a coffin made 200 years earlier and inscribed with another’s name.
But the oldest mummy here is also the most emotionally touching: A woman who was buried in hot, dry Egyptian sand between 5500 and 2700 B.C. was naturally mummified and lies before us. She was less than 34 years old, had lost most of her teeth, suffered from arthritis and had hardened arteries. And here she lies, wrapped in barely discernible linen and fur under a frayed reed mat, crouched so we see the top of her skull and her two protruding feet, near a scanned image of her bent skeletal frame. She is a reminder of the pain and loss mummification is meant to disguise—or permanently fend off—which, in this afterlife anyway, it clearly does not.
—Mr. Rothstein is the Journal’s Critic at Large.
Appeared in the March 22, 2017, print edition as 'Unwrapping History.'