After a closely watched international search, the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have chosen a new director—only the ninth in the Met's 138-year history—and they found him right under their noses: tapestries specialist Thomas Campbell, 46. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Cathleen McGuigan.
With countries demanding back indigenous treasures, are encyclopedic museums at risk?
I think [the Met] is the kind of museum that's more important today than ever. An institution like this can allow visitors to see across geographical and cultural borders, to see all sorts of connections— to see the bigger picture.
You've said you wanted to make the museum experience fresh and relevant. Does technology have a role in that?
Absolutely. Our audience very often doesn't have the history that they might have had in the past. We need to recognize that—we need to tell the stories behind the objects.
Should the Met do more with contemporary art?
We are an encyclopedic museum, and absolutely, judiciously, we should engage in that issue. We all recognize that some of what is contemporary today will be the old masters of the future.
You wrote your thesis on the court of Henry VIII. Did his tapestries depict the dark side of his reign, like the beheading of Anne Boleyn?
[Laughs] No, Henry spent phenomenal sums on tapestries showing classical heroes and religious figures from the Old Testament. He was effectively presenting himself as a modern-day patriarch to his own people.