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The Met chooses a new director

A low-profile curator and tapestries expert will run New York's massive art museum.

September 10, 2008|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has ended the highest-profile art world search in recent memory by choosing one of its own curators, Thomas P. Campbell, to succeed departing director Philippe de Montebello.

The selection of the relatively low-profile Campbell, 46, a curator specializing in European tapestries who has worked at the Met since 1995, was announced after the museum's board voted Tuesday. He will take over Jan. 1 from De Montebello, who has run the museum since 1977 and who announced in January: "The time is right for both my own -- and the museum's -- inevitable transition."

The Met, which was founded in 1870 and is by far the largest art museum in the United States, houses a collection of more than 2 million objects spanning 5,000 years of art history. Its budget for fiscal 2005-06 was $280.3 million.

In a statement issued by the museum, Campbell said his chief goal would be to "build on the Met's traditions of scholarship and openness, to ensure that our diverse audiences continue to be welcomed, challenged and inspired in ways that are fresh and relevant for the age in which we live."

De Montebello characterized Campbell in a statement as "absolutely the right selection," noting that his elevation continued a Met tradition, broken just twice in more than a century, of promoting its directors from within its own curatorial ranks.

But Campbell may have some reputation-making to do west of the Hudson: Selma Holo, director of USC's International Museum Institute and Fisher Museum of Art, said Tuesday that she had never heard of him. Still, without having noted his role as its curator, Holo said that she had seen a tapestry show he organized last year at the Met and that "it was gorgeous. He's obviously a wonderful curator. Beyond that, we'll see. This is going to be surprising to more than one person in the museum world, but sometimes surprise is a good thing."

Campbell, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., with his wife and two children, was born and raised in Cambridge, England. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature from Oxford University, he began art studies at Christie's auction house in London. He earned a master's in 1987 from London's Courtauld Institute and a doctorate there in 1999.

From 1987 to 1994, Campbell created the Franses Tapestry Archive in London, aiming to fill what he believed was a gap in historians' knowledge of tapestries' importance as both artworks and propaganda vehicles. He then joined the Met as an assistant curator and soon became supervisor of the museum's textiles collection.

Exhibitions Campbell organized at the museum include "Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence" (2002) and "Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor" (2007). His book "Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty: Tapestries at the Tudor Court" was published in 2007.

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mike.boehm@latimes.com

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