A behind-the-scenes history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Travel & Leisure contributing editor Gross has proven to be an able hand at chronicling the world of the moneyed elite (740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building, 2005, etc.). His latest book about a New York institution, the Met—which counted as major donors such financial titans as J.P. Morgan (once a Met president) and John D. Rockefeller Jr.—digs deep into decades of infighting among the wealthy. Gross wrote the book without the authorization of the museum’s current top brass—“The only kind of books we find even vaguely palatable are those we control,” one Met official told him—and, given the unflattering portrayal of many of the players, it comes as little surprise. Gross portrays Luigi Palma di Cesnola, a Medal of Honor winner during the Civil War and the Met’s first director (in 1879), as a wholesale looter of Cypriot antiquities, and Thomas P.F. Hoving, the director from 1966 to 1977, as a wild spendthrift, “a punch-drunk fighter lurching from crisis to scandal while driving the museum into the red.” Gross also documents numerous instances of Met board members’ anti-Semitism, homophobia and classism. For many years, he notes, the museum trustees refused to open the museum on Sundays, the only day that working-class New Yorkers could visit. The author clearly relishes dishing the dirt, but he also offers a supremely detailed history of the museum. However, he seems to have little interest in the actual works of art, which become mere pawns in a moneyed game. But that’s a minor quibble. Gross’s portrait of Met politics is sharp and well-constructed, and readers will marvel at how the institution transcended the bickering and backhanded power plays to become one of the largest and most prestigious museums in the world.
A deft rendering of the down-and-dirty politics of the art world.