Rogues' Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rogues' Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art

by Michael Gross


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767924894
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 05/11/2010
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 1,245,141
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Provocative cultural journalist and New York Times bestselling author Michael Gross is currently a contributing editor at Travel & Leisure. He has previously held positions at the New York Times, New York, Radar, George, and Esquire. His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Interview, Details, Elle, Architectural Digest, American Photo,
Town & Country
, and Cosmopolitan, and he has also written for the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chicago Tribune. He has profiled subjects from John F. Kennedy Jr. to Greta Garbo, from Richard Gere to Ivana Trump, and he has written on subjects such as divorce, plastic surgery, Greenwich Village, and sex in the nineties. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women (1995), which was published in eight countries; My Generation (2000), a biography of the Baby Boom generation; Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren (2003); and 740 Park (2005). He currently lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

On a chilly winter day, early in 2006, I sat in the office of Philippe de Montebello, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (he would announce his retirement two years later). Montebello is generally considered, even by his most fervent admirers, a little arrogant, a touch on the pompous side, and his mid-Atlantic Voice of God (well-known from his Acoustiguide tours of exhibitions) does nothing to dispel the impression of a healthy self-regard. So I was nervous; I was there to discuss my plan to write an unauthorized book about the museum and to ask for his support, or, at least, his neutrality.

He wasn’t happy to see me.

Ever since its founding, the Metropolitan has bred arrogance, hauteur, hubris, vanity and even madness in those who live in proximity to its multitude of treasures and who have come to feel not just protective but possessive of them. “Being involved with it made you special to the outside world,” says Stuart Silver, for years the museum’s chief exhibition designer. “It was a narcotic. You were high all the time.”
The Metropolitan is more than a mere drug, though. It is a huge alchemical experiment, turning the worst of man’s attributes—extravagance, lust, gluttony, acquisitiveness, envy, avarice, greed, egotism and pride—into the very best, transmuting deadly sins into priceless treasure. So the museum must be seen as something separate from the often imperfect individuals who created it, who sustained it and who run it today, something greater than the sum of their myriad flaws.

Without taking anything away from The Louvre or the Orsay in Paris, Madrid’s Prado, St. Petersburg’s Hermitage, The British Museum (which has no pictures), Britain’s National Gallery (which has only pictures and sculpture), the Vatican in Rome, the Uffizi in Florence, Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, Berlin’s Pergamon, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, the Smithsonian Institute and its National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Getty in Malibu or other vital New York museums like the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan is simply (and at the same time not at all simply) the most encyclopedic, universal art museum in the world.

In Montebello’s office that day, he’d been slumped sullenly in his chair as I made my pitch, but straightened up as I finished. “You are laboring under a misimpression,” he told me. “The museum has no secrets.”
From its inception, oversized personalities have dominated the Metropolitan; many loom large in American history, too. John Jay, grandson of the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, first conceived of it. William Cullen Bryant, the orator, poet, journalist, publisher and club man was one of the most eloquent advocates of the museum’s creation. In recent times, its board heads have been some of America’s most powerful men: in the 1930s, George Blumenthal, who headed Lazard Frères; in the 1960s, C. Douglas Dillon, John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Treasury; in the 1970s, Robert Lehman, the head of Lehman Brothers and in the 1980s, Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger, the chairman of The New York Times.

Some of these characters defined distinct eras in the museum’s colorful history. Luigi Palma di Cesnola, named the first director by the mostly self-made founders, was an Italian count, a Civil War veteran given to inflating his rank, an American diplomat and an amateur archaeologist, some of whose finds from Cyprus remain treasures in the museum’s collections today; his excesses mark it still. J. Pierpont Morgan is credited with turning the Met from a semi-private clubhouse for the trustees into a professional operation.

Following Morgan and dominating throughout the mid-20th century, though never serving as a trustee or officer, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was quietly its greatest benefactor and his relationship with James Rorimer, the sixth director, was a model for the symbiosis between the rich and the scholarly that made the Met blossom even more after Morgan. Hoving, a scholar but also a showman like Cesnola, was appointed by a board of trustees led by a group of gun-slinging veterans of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier administration; he re-invented the Met, and in the process redefined all museums during his mere ten years as director, beginning in 1966.

Ever since the beginning, the Met has been a political, cultural and social spectacle, especially when all three come together in the cauldron of fundraising. Then the fun really begins. You can get a seat on the board by wielding power (like Henry Kissinger, who was recruited to lend geopolitical savvy), or waving your family bloodline or corporate flag (among the Met’s brand-name trustee dynasties have been Morgans, Astors, Whitneys, Rockefellers, Annenbergs, Houghtons and various representatives of the Lazard Frères investment bank) or possessing a useful skill (like any number of financiers, developers and the media titans Reid, Luce, and Sulzberger). But money counts most of all: a commitment to donate six figure sums every year, or to twist the arms of other potential givers. “Give, get, or get out,” is the rule.
Back in Philippe de Montebello’s office, I wound up my pitch for the museum’s cooperation… and left the room shortly after with the distinct feeling that I was on my own. For I already knew that a curtain of secrecy had been hung over the museum long before Montebello’s time. With the stakes so high and the money and egos involved so big, the Met has always had to operate in the shade, whether it was acquiring art under questionable circumstances, dealing with donors hoping to launder very sketchy reputations, or merely trying to appear above reproach in a world where behind almost every painting is a fortune and behind that, a sin or a crime. The Metropolitan Museum is a storehouse of human memory. But it appeared, that day at least, it would just as soon its own be erased.

Table of Contents

Leaders of the Metropolitan Museum xi

Introduction 1

Archaeologist 1870-1904 Luigi Palma di Cesnola 21

Capitalist 1904-1912 J. Pierpont Morgan 65

Philanthropist 1912-1938 John D. Rockefeller Jr 113

Catalyst 1938-1960 Robert Moses 171

Exhibitionist 1959-1977 Thomas P. F. Hoving 237

Arrivistes 1974-2009 Jane Annette Engelhard 373

Afterword 487

Acknowleldgments 497

Notes 501

Bibliogoraphy 533

Index 539

What People are Saying About This

Gay Talese

Michael Gross has proven once again that he is a premier chronicler of the rich. Rogues' Gallery is an insightful, entertaining look at a great institution—with all its flaws and all its greatness.

Kitty Kelley

The title alone tantalizes but once you pick up this book and start reading about the good and the great and the hijinks of high society, it becomes un-put-downable!!!

Liz Smith

Gross is a good reporter, ever-digging, fanatical about details and without cooperation from the Met, he has produced a fascinating history of the museum, its place in the world, its place in the New York social firmament and its ups, downs, ins, outs, plus the trajectories of its various directors. . . . a fabulous, realistic, well-researched book.

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Rogues' Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals that Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
ZekeM More than 1 year ago
We all know Picasso was a rogue, but who would have guessed that the people who created the Metropolitan Museum were actually far worse...and their heirs today are worse than that! This book has heroes like John D. Rockefeller Jr and Brooke Astor, villains like Anna Wintour and Oscar and Annette de la Renta, and people who fall somewhere in-between like the Janes, Jayne Wrightsman and Jane Engelhard, two socialites with stories right out of a Dominick Dunne novel--only you can't make this kind of stuff up. Gross's research is incredible, his storytelling hypnotic, but it's the rogues of the title who make this a must read if you want to know what the rich poobahs who run New York society are REALLY like. These people make Bernie Madoff look like a cardboard cutout.
Dales2721 More than 1 year ago
I'm not an art person, but heard interview with author and was captivated by fact no one wanted him to right this tell all book about Met. Its more than a history of Met, its an insight into NY high society and what makes them tick. Interesting American history as well. Its not a thrilling read, but its a fascinating one.
delphica on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Oh, this was so limp. It's a look at the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a focus on some of the individuals who were key influences on the Museum and its collection at various points from its founding to more contemporary times. It's not a bad premise, but I hated the simpering tone that ran through it and always seemed to be saying "OMG! Rich people! Behaving badly! Quelle surprise!" The writing was fairly weak as well. Reading it was like having a long conversation with the author while he insisted upon talking behind his hand the entire time for effect. Poor effect, I would say.
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marilynnewyork More than 1 year ago
I heard this author speak at the Mid-Manhattan Library a few months ago. He was such a fabulous speaker, I recommend him to all history aficionados -- especially Manhattan history -- what a great dinner speaker he would make. If you live in NYC, you're always curious about what makes Manhattan tick. Why are the lives of the rich and famous people who contribute to the Metropolitan Museum and to the New York Public Library -- why are they so protected from criticism by the media including the New York Times? This author tells all. More than once I wanted to go -- "Aha! So that's what happened. Wow!" To a reader who just wants Art alone, that's okay, but that's not the main feature of this book. The reader will get REALITY -- the people whose lives are entwined with the founding and development of this great museum. And it ain't all pretty. But it's a wonderful story.
Stravinsky More than 1 year ago
I agree with a previous review. The book is negative in the extreme. The author doesn't seem to know much about art and instead focuses his attention on the trustees and their foibles. This book is for you if your interested in New York society gossip. If your interested in art, look elsewhere.
cannonball More than 1 year ago
Certainly this book lives up to the jacket's promises about its gossip-filled content. Nevertheless, I was somewhat disappointed. Somehow the gossip overrides the positive aspects of the Metropolitan Museum's history leaving a kind of salacious feeling. The title belies its bias and the Met deserves better.