The activation of the 17-mile-long CERN supercollider in Switzerland this week has, in the view of certain German and Indian scientists, raised the anticipation of the creation of a black hole and the subsequent end of the world, thusly: a ray of light will emerge from the Indian Ocean in four years time that will quickly absorb all matter, i.e. the whole Earth, in its vicinity. The boards of New York’s major museums are imagining something similar, and sooner, to their august institutions, whose donor dollars are already being sucked into the black hole of the mortgage crisis, fast-diminishing portfolios and an upcoming round of hedge-fund failures this October.
Hence the retreat back to curatorial sensibility in the appointments of the firm of Campbell, Temkin and Armstrong to the chairs of the Met, MoMA and the Goog, respectively. The mission of the three will be restore modesty and sensibility as a matter of economic necessity. Hence there will be layoffs, a welcome reduction in the use of the three spaces for extracurricular shindigs, and a new appreciation of the virtues of the permanent collection.
The new apostles offer a monk’s list of the old verities: Temkin, sobriety; Armstrong, sophistication; Campbell, anonymity. Those who appointed them hope to use them as dustbins for the public accountability they abandoned in the go-go years. The Campbell appointment, to a job supposedly reserved for James Cuno and especially coveted by the flamboyant Gary Tinterow, is so underwhelming that it might just anticipate what Artnet Magazine predicted months ago: the elevation of Mayor Bloomberg to the newly created position of Met czar, and, thus, with his billions to unofficial Grand Inquisitor of the cultural elite and its new discontents.
In any case, the new humility should be welcome news for the connoisseurs in the anonymous public who remain on the Madison Avenue bus (to all three destinations), and a huge boost to the Whitney, with its new river view in the Meat Packing District, love affair with the City Planning Commission and Weinbergian Weltanschaung. Truly, what was last is now first.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).