Met Selects Curator to Run Museum

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has chosen one of its longtime curators, Thomas P. Campbell, to be its next director and chief executive.

Mr. Campbell, 46 years old, will begin the job on Jan. 1, replacing retiring director Philippe de Montebello, who has overseen the museum for three decades. The Met spent eight months searching for a new director.

Mr. Campbell, a Cambridge, England, native who is an expert on Renaissance tapestries, has spent nearly 14 years as a curator in the Met's department of European sculpture and decorative arts. Relatively unknown on the art cocktail-party circuit, he won praise from scholars last year for mounting an exhibit on an often-overlooked category of art, Baroque tapestries.

James Houghton, the Met board's chairman, emphasized Mr. Campbell's knowledge of art history over his business-world savvy. In a statement following the board's vote Tuesday, Mr. Houghton said Mr. Campbell's leadership qualities will soon be apparent to the broader art community along with his "great passion for art, the very raison d'être of the museum." In a statement, Mr. Campbell pledged to keep the museum "fresh and relevant."

In reaching out to Mr. Campbell, the museum's 12-member search committee is betting that his scholarly expertise and familiarity with the Met's inner workings have equipped him to juggle the demands of one of the world's top museums. The job -- a mix of executive, lawyer and diplomat -- entails producing about 30 exhibits a year and managing a staff of 2,600, a $201 million annual operating budget and a $1 billion-plus capital campaign.

The new director may need to navigate battles with foreign governments over disputed artworks, as Mr. Montebello had to do last year with Italy. He will also be expected to play cultural ambassador for New York, where the museum reigns as the city's top tourist draw. Last year the institution and its collection of two million artworks saw 4.6 million visitors, down from a peak of 5.1 million in 2000.

Art-world headhunter Malcolm MacKay said the board's decision to promote from within underscores its desire to make a smooth transition after Mr. Montebello retires. Mr. Campbell must be "well-liked" by trustees and the curators, Mr. MacKay said, but he may struggle to adjust from being a curator to being a museum director. "It's not an easy job," he said.

The decision also reveals the museum's determination to remain a conservative arbiter of culture, rather than a trendsetter. Other candidates for the job might have signified a shift: Max Hollein, director of the Stadel Museum in Frankfurt, previously had worked for Thomas Krens, a museum-empire builder and former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Others had predicted the job would go to Gary Tinterow, the Met's curator of 19th century, modern and contemporary art, who has turned the museum's roof terrace into an exhibition space for contemporary stars including Jeff Koons.

Jonathan Brown, a professor at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, said he was surprised by the board's selection but called it "inspired," adding, "Tom is the outsider insider, somebody who is young and presumably fresh but at the same time doesn't have to spend time making all the Met connections."

Mr. Campbell will be the ninth director to assume control of the Met since it was created in 1870. After studying English literature at the University of Oxford in the mid-1980s, he earned a doctorate in art in 1999 from the Courtauld Institute of Art, specializing in the courtly culture of King Henry VIII. Shortly after he arrived at the Met in 1995, he became supervising curator of the Antonio Ratti Textile Center, the museum's collection of 36,000 textiles.

Write to Kelly Crow at

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