The Old Way of Finding a New Met Director

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With the Metropolitan Museum preparing to choose a successor to Philippe de Montebello, I’ve been re-reading Making the Mummies Dance, the jaunty — make that very jaunty — 1994 memoir by former Met director Thomas Hoving. Given that the Met recently formed a search committee, which has now picked a head hunting firm, I laughed when I got to one passage early in Hoving’s book about the way they went about these things 40 years ago.

As we join the action, it’s the summer of 1967. Hoving appears to be on the list of candidates for the top job. He’s at lunch with Ted Rousseau, a Met curator acting as go-between for some pro-Hoving trustees. Hoving asks Rousseau to tell him who’s on the Search Committee and how it works. Rousseau’s reply:

He said the committee was “for show”. The actual candidate would be chosen in camera, by [then-Met Board Chairman] Arthur Houghton and his inner circle. As Rousseau described it, the time honored custom was to form a committee of at least five members, no more than seven, so that there would be a ready quorum. No women were allowed. The chairman had to be in the president’s pocket. It was ritual that “the entire world be searched.” It was equally sacred that the committee spend at least as much time finding the new director as it had the last one. To be avoided at all costs was a candidate who might turn down the offer. Thus the question had to be popped very carefully. It was taboo to consider a bachelor, a homosexual, a foreigner or a woman.

Well I guess that would have ruled out K.D. Lang.

But seriously, we can be sure that at least some things have changed since then. The Search Committee now has a dozen members. And five of them are women.