Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Grand Acquisitor

ArtNet (Thomas Hoving)

It is impossible to give a flavour of this article by pulling out a few paragraphs from it, but here goes with a couple of extracts. Do go and read the entire thing if you want to find out what it's all about! Thomas Hoving is former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and rarely expresses his opinion with brevity.

A few weeks ago I received a letter from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s chairman, James Houghton, saying that there’d be a major exhibition in October celebrating Philippe de Montebello’s three decades as director. Three hundred choice works from every Met department out of 84,000 acquisitions had been chosen by his devoted curators.

84,000? Impossible!

To give you an idea how many 84K works is: that’s two-and-a-half times the 30,000 Egyptian pieces on view in the already overloaded galleries.

It seemed to me nuts that the Met had gorged itself on 84K things knowing that further expansion up, out, down or wherever was impossible. Where would the stuff be stashed?
I asked the museum’s publicity department if the phenomenal figure was accurate. Yes.

Then at the press opening of the show -- "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," Oct. 24, 2008-Feb. 1, 2009 -- I collared director de Montebello and he assured me that the real count of acquisitions was closer to 5,000 or 7,000 and that the inflated figure took into account groups and series of works.

Whew! For a moment there I thought the Met had secretly re-started its bizarre "new master plan" that envisioned a huge storage space to be blasted in the schist under Fifth Avenue costing a mere $650,000,000. A community action committee squashed that cockamamie scheme a few years back. . . .

After King Tut, the best known pharaonic celebrity of ancient Egypt is the radical king Iknaten, whose wife was the beauteous Nefertiti. He was the monotheistic ruler who reigned in the 18th Dynasty from ca. 1349 to 1336 B.C. He stamped out the old pantheon of the sun god, Amun, and replaced them with one god, Aten, the sun-god giver of life and the sun. Under Iknaten artistic style changed violently. Depictions of the Pharaoh –- slack-chinned, pot-bellied, with a grotesquely elongated head -– are among the most gripping in all of art history. His palace, now totally gone, was at Tel el Amarna. Excavations there have been going on for years and hundreds of limestone panels have been found; most of them have been for years in underground storage at the Talatat storage area. Somehow Schimmel got his hands on several dozen.

One problem, however. The Iknaten hoard at the Met may become the Euphronios kalyx krater of the Egyptian department. According to Egyptian officials, the Talatat storerooms were broken into and hundreds of limestone panels stolen. Today, Egypt’s hard-charging head of antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, is making lists of pieces in foreign lands he will insist on having returned to Egypt. Will the Iknaten pieces be listed? Will they go back? Stay tuned.

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