Thomas P. Campbell, the new director of the Met is taking the iconic American museum in new directions. One particularly promising sign, is Cambell’s focus on technology and particularly the rebuilding of the museum’s websites. Museum websites are very powerful tools for the dissemination of event, collections and programming information but their layout is often so convoluted that their usefulness is undermined.
Another new development which perhaps marks a trend which will be followed by other museums is the appointment of the museum’s youngest trustee at 32 years old. As museums are increasingly marketing themselves to younger audiences, the representation of this demographic on the museum’s board will perhaps keep the museum’s programs and image more dynamic.
While these developments are interesting, what caught my eye in relation to heritage politics was the mention of the current negotiations with the Shanghai Museum. The planned exhibition, which would be sent to the Shanghai Museum, would be a survey of Chinese art from the collections of three American museums. The exhibition has hit a snag with the concern that objects lent for the exhibition would be claimed by the Chinese government and not returned. This concern was heightened by a recent visit to the Met by a Beijing delegation looking for looted objects on display. The Chinese government’s “jingoism” and “grandstanding”, as Mr. Cambell called it, in regards to its patrimony has damaged the confidence of potential lenders. This is a analogous situation to the heightened political tensions which nearly prevented certain objects being included in the 2008 traveling exhibition From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 . The question comes to mind regarding China’s actions whether they are in fact strengthening their claims on their cultural patrimony or damaging potential long-term lending relationships with museums which contain great amounts of Chinese art? Who does it really benefit to have all Chinese patrimony returned to China?