Nearly a decade after he retired as director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello wants a second act—this time, at a gallery. The New York Times reported this morning that the longest-serving chief of America’s most prominent encyclopedic museum will become a director of Acquavella Galleries in New York.
“I think it’s one of the great art galleries,” de Montebello told the Times. “We have been talking over the last few years since I left the Met about how I could use some of my academic and other experience with the gallery.”
Though he’s not straying far from his roots geographically—the Upper East Side mainstay is located on East 79th Street, just around the corner from the Met’s Fifth Avenue digs—it’s rare for a high-profile institutional figure to join a commercial gallery, and perhaps unheard of for a director of his stature to gain an official title at a shop.
In the 1990s, Pace hired away curator Bernice Rose from the Museum of Modern Art, and Gagosian convinced longtime CUNY professor and critic Robert Pincus-Witten to organize shows before he left to join C&M Arts, Robert Mnuchin’s gallery with James Corcoran, as director of exhibitions. In 2007, Lisa Dennison, then the director of the Guggenheim Museum, left her position to join Sotheby’s. In 2012, Gagosian Gallery hired John Elderfield, previously the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, to organize exhibitions.
It is more common for museum veterans to dip their toes into the commercial world than to take on titles. Gagosian has enlisted the help of historian John Richardson for a number of Picasso shows over the past few years. Recently, Mitchell-Innes & Nash turned to Hamburger Banhof director Eugen Blume to organize a Joseph Beuys show, former Pompidou director Alfred Pacquement curated a Simon Hantaï show at Mnuchin, and Robert Storr, the dean of the Yale School of Art, curated an Ad Reinhardt show at David Zwirner.
At Acquavella, de Montebello will focus on publications and special exhibitions. He will continue to serve in his post-Met roles as chairman of the Hispanic Society of America and professor at New York University, among other positions.
Meanwhile, the Met is still looking for a new director after Thomas Campbell stepped down in June.