The Metropolitan Museum held off announcing its new designee to oversee its resplendent European Paintings Department until after Keith Christiansen had left the building (officially, June 30, although he is said to still have a desk there), with 43 years of superlative service.
After a respectful week-long pause, the Met dispatched this announcement to my inbox on Thursday evening:
The choice caught me by surprise, not because he was an inside candidate, like Tom Campbell when he assumed the Met’s directorship in 2009 (which I analyzed in the Wall Street Journal a year later), but because he was a completely unfamiliar face to this MetMuseum-ologist:
Wondering how I’d managed to miss him, I searched for his name on the NY Times‘ website and discovered he had a low profile there too, with only two entries: a 2003 mention of his work on a show at the National Gallery, London (A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, which also appeared at the Met); a 2005 mention of his work on Degas at Harvard, as a “young Fogg [Art Museum] curator” in the university art museums’ Department of Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts. It’s a relatively modest track record for someone assuming such a major post.
In the Met’s announcement, director Max Hollein credited the new department head (who joined the the museum in early 2015) with “a deep knowledge of all aspects of the curatorial field, from collecting and acquisitions to compelling interpretation and creative installation.” That prompted me to ask the Met’s press office whether it could “name any other important exhibitions, installations, acquisitions or publications for which he [Wolohojian] was responsible, aside from the Winthrop Collection.”
Here’s the response:
In addition to what’s in the release, he’s working on two upcoming loan shows at The Met: “Manet/Degas” and “The Invention of Painting: Sienese Art c. 1300.”
That’s an eclectic mix: The press release notes that Stephan is “a specialist in Italian Renaissance and Baroque painting, as well as 19th-century French painting.”
He is also prominently featured in the Met’s Feb. 25 video tour (introduced by Christiansen) of the ambitious reinstallation of what is arguably its strongest collection—A New Look at Old Masters—rendered more vibrant by the galleries’ new skylights. Sharing the honors of escorting us through the entirely reimagined displays is Adam Eaker, assistant curator of European paintings.
I had thought that another Met insider—Andrea Bayer, a veteran curator of European paintings at the Met—might have gotten the nod to head that department. But when I asked her about this during the press preview for Christiansen’s last hurrah at the Met, she thanked me for acknowledging her skills, but noted that she was valued more for her work with the central office (as Deputy Director for Collections and Administration).
In perusing the press release on Wolohojian’s appointment, I noticed that his title is “Curator in Charge of Department of European Paintings,” as distinguished from Keith’s title as chairman of European Paintings. According to a Met spokesperson, “the Chair titles are historically given at the Met to some curatorial department heads after a longer term of service and after a set of major accomplishments.”
Something to aspire to, I guess. But one wonders, at least a little bit, why someone who had already achieved “a set of major accomplishments” wouldn’t merit chairmanship of the important department that he now heads. Presumably, he’s got more to accomplish.
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