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the take

Jerry Saltz on What the Met's Losing in De Montebello and What It Needs From Its Next Director

Philippe de MontebelloPhoto: Getty Images

Within the art world there have been rumblings about Philippe de Montebello's leave-taking for years. No one wanted to believe it was true. Now that it is, it's a little scary to think of this institution — or cultural life in New York — without him. De Montebello, 71, who has the ruby-throated voice of Patrick Stewart, the even-handed temperament and patrician air of a seasoned diplomat, and the ideals and ethics of a philosopher, has helped make the Met the greatest encyclopedic museum in the world. Last year alone he oversaw the completion of the glorious 57,000-square-foot Greek and Roman wing; the unveiling of the spectacular new nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century wing; and the reinstallation of Oceanic Art, the galleries with the most and biggest penises anywhere in New York. (Click here to watch Jerry Saltz's video tour of the Metropolitan Museum!)

Not every thing has been peaches and cream during De Montebello’s tenure. The fabled Temple of Dendur, installed before he arrived, was sometimes called the Temple of Dinner under his directorship because of all the fêtes held there. De Montebello could also be churlish and stubborn about contemporary art. Still, especially following the stormy directorship of his predecessor, Thomas Hoving, who seemed ready to sell the museum and its good name to the highest or glitziest bidder, De Montebello was a godsend.

Who will take over is anyone’s guess. The Times has already mentioned a few usual high mucky-muck suspects. The world of museum directors is a byzantine mystery to me. I would only add one name to the list; maybe it’s time for the Met to have its first female director. I'd nominate Anne d’Harnoncourt, the excellent director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She’s a gifted authority on a wide range of art, and she's got the French aristocratic name going for her as well.

Who will take over is anyone’s guess. The Times has already mentioned a few usual high mucky-muck suspects. The world of museum directors is a byzantine mystery to me. I would only add one name to the list; maybe it’s time for the Met to have its first female director. I'd nominate Anne d’Harnoncourt, the excellent director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She’s a gifted authority on a wide range of art, and she's got the French aristocratic name going for her as well.

Related: Jerry Saltz's video tour of the Metropolitan Museum

Earlier: Who's Snooty Enough to Replace Philippe de Montebello?