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Metropolitan Museums Director Resigns Under Pressure

FEB. 28, 2017

Thomas P. Campbell, the Metropolitan Museum of Arts director and chief executive, in 2014. Mr. Campbell announced on Tuesday he was leaving both posts. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Thomas P. Campbell resigned under pressure on Tuesday as the director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after months of growing concerns among staff members and some trustees about its financial health and his capacity to lead the largest museum in the country.

Met officials said that Mr. Campbell would stay on until June, the end of the fiscal year, but that Daniel H. Weiss, the Mets president and chief operating officer, would be simultaneously serving as interim chief executive. Mr. Weiss will work with Mr. Campbell and the museums leadership on a transition plan while the Met seeks a new director, one of the most powerful in the art world.

We are not looking to appoint a new director immediately, said Daniel Brodsky, the museums chairman, in a letter to board and staff members, but instead will take some time to consider the leadership needs of the museum in a thoughtful and deliberative way.

The Met said that Mr. Campbell, 54, had made the decision to leave the job he had held for eight years. But the circumstances surrounding his departure point to his being forced out. As The New York Times reported extensively in an article in early February, Mr. Campbells financial decisions and expansion plans had been criticized by some trustees, curators and other staff members. During the last couple of years, despite the museums record attendance, much of his original agenda was rolled back because of the museums economic difficulties, including a soaring deficit.
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The sudden end to Mr. Campbells tenure came in recent days after key board members including Hamilton E. James, who leads the Mets finance committee insisted it was time for him to go, according to people inside the Met who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal confidential conversations and personnel decisions.
Daniel H. Weiss, the Mets president and chief operating officer, will assist the museums leadership on a transition plan while the board begins a search for Mr. Campbells replacement. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

It was Mr. James, the president and chief operating officer of the Blackstone Group investment firm, who by many accounts first sounded the alarm about the Mets financial condition after joining the board in 2010. Mr. James declined on Tuesday to be interviewed.

The full board was not informed of Mr. Campbells resignation until Tuesday afternoon, having been summoned to a conference call only an hour before. According to one trustee who spoke on condition of anonymity having been instructed by the board chairman not to speak to the news media Mr. Brodsky started the call by introducing Mr. Campbell, who then read his full statement in what the trustee called a trembling voice.

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Mr. Brodsky said that he would take no questions, but would see everyone at the next full board meeting in two weeks.

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No mention of a search committee was made on the call. This was a distinct change from the departure of Mr. Campbells predecessor, Philippe de Montebello, when Annette de la Renta and S. Parker Gilbert, then both vice chairs of the Met board, were simultaneously announced as the chairwoman and vice chairman of the search committee.

In response to Mr. Campbells exit, Mr. de Montebello said in a telephone interview: I wish him well in his new endeavors. The Met is a great institution and Im sure it will thrive in the future under new leadership.

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Mr. Campbell, in his letter to staff and trustees on Tuesday, wrote that he had decided to step down in order to pursue the next phase of my career.

I couldnt be more proud of The Mets accomplishments during my tenure, he wrote.

Just how an institution as august and professional as the Met found itself in a financial emergency during a strong economy became the subject of public consternation, and some of the blame fell on Mr. Campbell as its chief executive.

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There were buyouts and layoffs; the digital staff he built up had to be pared down. His plan to construct a $600 million wing for Modern and contemporary art, for the museums 150th anniversary in 2020, was postponed indefinitely. Several of his key hires were let go.

In 2015 Mr. Weiss, formerly president of Haverford College, was hired, a move viewed by many inside the Met as a way to bring in an experienced administrator to compensate for Mr. Campbells managerial inexperience.
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When Mr. Weiss came on board, he quickly announced that the Met would face a $40 million deficit unless it swiftly addressed spiraling costs and built revenue.

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But many inside and outside the Met have also questioned the role of the board in the Mets difficulties. The board, after all, backed Mr. Campbells decision to take on a temporary expansion into the Met Breuer. (The Met Breuer building cost about $15 million to refurbish after the Whitney Museum of American Art left, and it costs $17 million a year to run.) The board also approved Mr. Campbells efforts to bulk up the museums digital staff.

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The board initially promoted Mr. Campbell with a mandate to strengthen the museums Modern and contemporary art activities. Without that commitment, the understanding goes, the Met would not have secured Leonard A. Lauders game-changing gift of Cubist artworks, valued at more than $1 billion, which require a worthy exhibition space.

The degree to which Mr. Campbell lost ground with curators was striking, given that he came from their ranks, having spent 15 years at the museum as a tapestry specialist before becoming director in January 2009.

But the Met also has had critical and popular success under Mr. Campbell, seeing its attendance rise to about seven million visitors a year (including the Cloisters). And the Met Breuer, which opened in March, has drawn 557,000 visitors more than projected exceeding the Whitneys annual attendance in that building.

Moreover, the Met has had many acclaimed exhibitions under Mr. Campbell, including Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World last year, and its recent Kerry James Marshall survey at the Met Breuer was considered groundbreaking.

Mr. Campbell will have to give up his Met apartment across from the museum at 993 Fifth Avenue. It is worth millions of dollars, part of his hefty compensation package, which was about $1.4 million in 2015, according to the most recently available tax forms.

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While many in the art world have speculated about who might replace Mr. Campbell, no clear leading candidates have surfaced. Among the names often floated are Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art; both are engaged in their own major building projects. But they specialize in Modern and contemporary art, and the Met seems ambivalent about how much to commit to that area.

Others have wondered whether Mr. Weiss, 59, might succeed Mr. Campbell since he has proved proficient as a financial steward and steadying force and is liked by the staff. In addition to an M.B.A., Mr. Weiss has a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in Western medieval and Byzantine art.

According to a senior executive in the art world with knowledge of the boards thinking on the succession plan, who refused to be identified because of the sensitive situation, the trustees intend to use the next few months to see if Mr. Weiss is up to the job.



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