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Get me rewrite!

September 10, 2008 | 10:16 am

Thomaspcampbell In announcing the much-anticipated appointment of a new director for the peerless Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Times today seized an opportunity to take a gratuitous swipe at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's director, Michael Govan (below). Met tapestries curator Thomas P. Campbell (left), 46, who organized a brilliant 2002 show of Renaissance-era woven art and, in 2007, a less-surprising but nonetheless marvelous Baroque tapestry show, was the museum's unexpected choice. His name had appeared on a few guessing-game lists of contenders to replace outgoing director Philippe de Montebello, who has held the prestigious job for more than three decades; but he was certainly a dark horse.

Govan's name had also been floated on published space-filler lists, although without so much as a shred of evidence beyond speculative cherry-picking of bold! face! names! among directors of large art institutions. Be that as it may, New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman today described what not Michaelgovan_2 to expect from Campbell's forthcoming museum administration by noting that "connecting with a broad, young public doesn’t require hiring  Jorge Pardo or some other living artist to design the cabinetry." Inviting artists, most recently Pardo, to collaborate in museum design has been a hallmark of Govan's LACMA tenure.

Yikes. A critic is entitled to his opinions (trust me on that), but aside from the evident hostility to living artists the put-down implies, the remark is striking for breaking a cardinal rule of criticism. The New York Times' chief art critic lives in Berlin, Germany. Theoretically, it's possible he made the 13-hour flight to L.A. sometime during the last six weeks, since Pardo's controversial installation design for LACMA's Pre-Columbian art collection was unveiled; but color me skeptical. So how does he know it was a bad idea?

Without naming him--as he also hadn't named Govan--Kimmelman likewise jabbed de Montebello's predecessor, former Met director Thomas Hoving, describing him as "visibly unhinged." Fair enough. Hoving has an observable history, commonly lamented, as a player in the culture industry. But the Pardo remark was uncalled for. A critic stumbles--badly--when making pronouncements in the vicinity of art he has not seen.

--Christopher Knight

Photos: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art