in other words

#65: Metropolitan Museum Director Max Hollein

by Charlotte Burns
Guest Max Hollein in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recording studio. Photo by Matthew Magelof

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A year after taking the reins at one of the world’s largest and most important art institutions, Max Hollein joins host Charlotte Burns to discuss future plans for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met director discusses the distinct role he believes the museum can play in terms of contemporary art, and gives an update on recently-stalled plans for the David Chipperfield-led renovation of the Modern and contemporary wing—part of more than $1bn the museum is slated to spend on renovations and expansions.

He talks about the Met’s finances, which are almost back on track after a deficit, and about the perhaps unique challenges and opportunities of fundraising at the New York museum: “At the Met, you’re always being confronted with endless opportunities,” he says. “If you’re not clear on where you want the institution to go—what mission you want to fulfill, what are the important steps to get there—you can get distracted at any moment in time. And you could get opportunistic.”

None of the Met’s initiatives—including a $70m overhaul of the African, Oceanic and American art galleries—would be possible without fundraising support from the board. “It’s clear that American institutions are being built on—and will only continue to further thrive and develop on—the whole idea of philanthropy,” he says, adding that “the responsibility of the institution is to make sure that the philanthropy represented on the board actually shows the diversity of interests on it.”

In a week in which the Met returned to Egypt an ancient gilded coffin that had been the centerpiece of the exhibition “Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin”, but which prosecutors deemed to have been looted, Hollein talks about how the Met is tackling the fraught issue of cultural repatriation. He talks about the museum as a platform for debates: from the morality of where sponsorship money comes from to diversity in programing and governance.

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Max Hollein

director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Max Hollein is the 10th director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. One of the key figures in the global art world, he is known for impressive collection building, innovative exhibitions, holistic educational programming, significant digital projects, prodigious fund raising, management and leadership skills, transforming institutions, and broadening audiences by making art more accessible.

Born in Vienna, Max Hollein studied art history at the University of Vienna and business administration at the Vienna University of Economics. He began his career at the Guggenheim Museum in New York under the leadership of Tom Krens and curated numerous exhibitions, including the American pavilion at the Seventh Venice Architecture Biennale in 2000 and the Austrian pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale in 2005. From 2001 to 2016 Max served as the director of the renowned institutions Städel Museum, Schirn Kunsthalle and Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection in Frankfurt am Main/Germany. From 2016 to 2018, Max was the Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young and the Legion of Honor, which are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco. One of his most significant projects in the past was the expansion of the Städel Museum completed in 2012 which doubled the institution’s gallery space and created a new wing for the presentation of art since 1945. With a visionary digital program, he led his institutions into a new age. His exhibition programs at previous museums have spanned the centuries from antiquities to old masters and modern visionaries to cutting edge contemporary art. Max has distinguished the program at each museum to advance scholarship and build new audiences.

Charlotte Burns

Executive editor of In Other Words
Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

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