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janeiro 17, 2012

Met Gears Up to Be a Player in Contemporary Art por Carol Vogel, The New York Times

Matéria de Carol Vogel originalmente publicada no jornal The New York Times em 10 de janeiro de 2012.

Sending a signal that it intends to become a serious competitor in the field of contemporary art for the first time in half a century, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has recruited a prominent London curator to oversee a new department devoted to art of the 20th and 21st centuries. She is Sheena Wagstaff, chief curator of Tate Modern since 2001, who has been responsible for programming there and for helping to organize exhibitions devoted to artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Barnett Newman, Jeff Wall and Eva Hesse.

Ms. Wagstaff’s appointment was approved by the Met’s board on Tuesday afternoon. It comes as the institution prepares to take over the Whitney Museum of American Art‘s Marcel Breuer building, at Madison Avenue and 75th Street, in 2015, when the Whitney opens its new museum in the meatpacking district of Manhattan. The Met plans to use this Breuer landmark as an outpost for Modern and contemporary art while it renovates its existing Modern and contemporary art galleries.

The appointment is accompanied by a significant reorganization of the museum’s leadership by the Met’s director, Thomas P. Campbell. It reverses a decision made in 2004 by his predecessor Philippe de Montebello to put Modern and contemporary art into the same department with 19th-century European paintings: that meant French Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists were managed by the same curators who handled contemporary masters like Jasper Johns, Lichtenstein and Ellsworth Kelly. That move was seen as diminishing the museum’s emphasis on contemporary art, which has long been its weakest link.

Except for a brief period in the 1960s when Henry Geldzahler was hired as the Met’s first 20th-century curator, the museum has never been able to compete seriously with giants of contemporary art like the Museum of Modern Art in New York or, more recently, Tate Modern in London.

And not everybody thinks it should; some critics and scholars think it is impossible to identify the greatest work of the present, to have the kind of historical perspective that is crucial to the Met’s judgment of its other collections.

Holland Cotter, a chief art critic for The New York Times, wrote in July: ”What we don’t need from the Met because we get it from so many other sources, is a preponderance of Now. We don’t need, in the Breuer building, four floors of the same sort of contemporary art that we see everywhere else in town, just so the Met can say that it has it, that it’s up to market speed.”

But the Met doesn’t intend to be like everyone else. When Mr. Campbell became director three years ago he vowed to put contemporary art back more prominently on the Met’s map, but in his own way.

First, in May, he finalized plans to operate the Breuer building for at least eight years. Then, last month, the director of the combined 19th-century and contemporary art department, Gary Tinterow, resigned from the Met to become director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, creating the opportunity to hire Ms. Wagstaff and to reorganize. Mr. Campbell said he planned to put 19th-century paintings back into the department of European paintings under the direction of Keith Christiansen, its chairman.

“I’ve been conscious since I became director that a timely recalibration of Modern and contemporary art — not just art of the West, but globally — was something we had to do,” Mr. Campbell said in a telephone interview. “The opportunity to take over the Breuer building is very exciting. It gives us space to show Modern and contemporary art in the context of our encyclopedic collections.”

Mr. Campbell said that well before Mr. Tinterow’s resignation he had been discussing with him the possibility of dividing the departments. While there were many good candidates to run the new department, he said Ms. Wagstaff, who is 55, “was the most outstanding.”

“Sheena has scholarly, curatorial, programming and administrative experience,” Mr. Campbell said. “We need somebody who can reach out to the community with authority and who is well known to colleagues here and abroad.”

Ms. Wagstaff also has experience working with architects, as she did with Herzog & de Meuron as they developed their vision for an expanded Tate Modern. Perhaps even more important, she comes with deep knowledge of the Whitney, having done postgraduate curatorial studies there in its Independent Study Program in the early 1980s.

In a telephone interview Ms. Wagstaff echoed Mr. Campbell’s mission to present new art in a bigger way. “The global context is increasingly important to all of us as we live in an increasingly complex world,” she said. “And contemporary art is a great enabler to make sense of that world.”

While Ms. Wagstaff declined to say what specific ideas she has for the Met in her new job, she did say that she hoped the museum would be “in the vanguard of reinventing a new understanding of what art means, having a dialogue with the past and the present, the most vital conversation we can have today.”

Mr. Campbell said Ms. Wagstaff’s appointment was just the beginning of an effort to build a heftier curatorial staff with all kinds of expertise in contemporary art. “This won’t be the only hire,” he said. “If we build up the right team, we will have the potential to grow our collections thoroughly and embrace European and non-Western art.”

Mr. Campbell also explained that he would fortify the Met’s curatorial staff working with its renowned collection of Impressionists and post-Impressionists after the departure of Mr. Tinterow, a leading scholar in the field. “We want to sustain energy in that area, too,” he said.

Ms. Wagstaff is the fourth curator that Mr. Campbell has hired away from a major London museum. Two years ago he brought in Sheila R. Canby from the British Museum to run the Met’s Islamic art department. In July 2010 he hired Xavier F. Salomon, the former chief curator of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, to be a curator in the department of European paintings, and this summer he announced that Luke Syson, curator of Italian paintings before 1500 and head of research at the National Gallery in London, would become the Met’s curator in charge of European sculpture and decorative art; he replaces Ian Wardropper, who became director of the Frick Collection in October.

When asked about his penchant for London-based curators, Mr. Campbell, who is British but has lived and worked in New York for 17 years, said: “Sheila Canby is American, and Xavier Salomon is Italian. Since I became director, there have been people retiring and others moving on. I’ve made 12 executive department head appointments and many of them from American museums.”

Asked why he chose Ms. Wagstaff over the scores of talented American curators to choose from, Mr. Campbell said: “Sheena is knowledgeable and well respected in the community. There was chemistry.”

Posted by Patricia Canetti at 12:39 PM