High Drama at the Met

June 21, 2017


Every weekday I make a point of spending about twenty minutes reading the New York Post, a 216-year-old tabloid that has been around since November 1801. I have a friend who’s an avid reader of The New York Times who looks at me as if I have two heads when I quote a juicy bit of news from this newspaper to her. Full disclosure: I pass on all of the “if it bleeds, it leads” stories and head straight for Page Six because it always has gossipy, “happening right now” news to report. 

Page Six floats between pages four and twelve, but I always manage to find it and, this particular time, my eye caught an item about the departure of the director of the Metropolitan Museum and an in-depth article that would appear shortly in Vanity Fair, one of my favorite magazines.

I immediately met with a friend who has volunteered at the Met for years and asked her if she had heard anything. She said that there had been rumors flying about for some time. But, she added in a hushed tone, “It’s not about the record-breaking debt the museum has amassed, it’s about some hanky panky of the director with a member of his staff. Don’t say a word.”

Shortly afterwards, the March 2017 issue of Vanity Fair appeared in my mailbox and I started to read an eight-page article titled, The Met’s Power Failure, that gave the whole story starting with this introductory blurb:

With the unceremonious departure of its director,
Thomas Campbell, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
acknowledged troubled times. WILLIAM D. COHAN
examines how a former wunderkind, a billion-dollar bequest
and a mission to modernize became a toxic mix for one of
the world’s most powerful cultural institutions.


The piece begins with this statement. “On February 4, 2017 The New York Times published an article by Robin Pogrebin that asked the startling question, Is the Met Museum ‘a Great Institution in Decline’? The article was “like an atomic bomb in the room,” says one former administrator at the Met. Three weeks later Campbell resigned under pressure.

Thomas Campbell, former director of the Metropolitan Museum

The Vanity Fair article covered the Met’s history and Campbell’s background: an Oxford graduate and a Met employee described as “an expert in European tapestries” who wasn’t one of the establishment curators, but wasn’t a complete outsider either. He seemed like a good fit. Except for the issue of management skills and the temperament to lead 2,500 employees that included 17 curatorial departments – each with its own priorities.

One example of Cubism from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection at The Metropolitan Museum

Campbell wanted to make the Met new and trendy so 14 of the 17 heads of curatorial departments were replaced or retired. He also directed considerable resources toward a new digital department with 75 employees at an annual cost of around $20 million.

The article touches on Campbell’s relationship with Leonard Lauder and his $1 billion gift of modern art to the Met and then, on page 164, a short, five line paragraph appeared that really caught my eye, “Another problem was Campbell’s friskiness with certain women on the staff. He had been warned about it early in his tenure but still carried on. More recently, a legal action was brought against him and the Met, but it was settled.”

Leonard Lauder, the cosmetics tycoon, gave a $1 billion gift to the Metropolitan Museum

Oh, oh, I thought to myself – there’s the smoking gun.

Things were heating up. The New York Times published a second article by Robin Pogrebin on April 2, 2017 that went into the departure of Erin Coburn, the first chief officer of digital media who had long complained that she was unable to do her job effectively because of a close personal relationship between Campbell and a female member in her department.

Towards the end of this piece, Pogrebin wrote, “The exact nature of Mr. Campbell’s relationship with the staff member – whom The New York Times is not naming to protect her privacy – is not widely known.”

So now we’ve gone the full circle. Two days later, on April 4, 2017 the New York Post published a piece labeled, “Art-Breaker” that showed pictures of Campbell, 54 and the employee in question, Teresa Lai, 46. The Post even has a quote from a former Met employee who says she saw the couple leaving the Balon wine bar on East 81st Street near the museum about five years ago.

The Balon Wine Bar at 245 East 81st Street

Not content to leave it there, the Post reporter interviewed the Balon bartender who said, “The guy in the bow tie with the Asian girlfriend? They’re in here all the time.” That says it all.

UPDATE: The media reports that the Met is “mulling over the idea of a $25 entry fee for out-of-towners to turn around its multi-million dollar budget deficit.”

Shaun Nelson-HenrickSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

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