Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Universal Museum as a Rogues Gallery

Oscar White Muscarella's review of Michael Gross's Rogues' Gallery makes depressing reading for a number of reasons. The first is obvious. This institution was promoting itself for so long as an elite cultural institution, a Universal Museum spreading intercultural understanding. This "justified" almost everything that went on around the acquisition of stunning trophy objects - some of which turned out to have been less legitimate purchases and donations than others. Gross's book depicts the place as a swamp. Fair enough, those of us who have worked for big institutions know that "stuff happens". Nasty stuff. Muscarella's review however clearly shows that Gross wasn't telling half the story. His text was conceived more as a somewhat personal addendum, somewhat difficult to follow without the original book in front of you (I've not bought it). The material which interested me most about the purchase of apparently looted finds and the media coverup that Muscarella alleges is at the end of a long involved text which reads like a "catalogue of errors" (of both the Met as well as the books author). A terrible terrible indictment of the Metropolitan Museum. I'd like to see Muscarella write his independent account of his days at the Met, rather than his notes on something somebody else wrote. It is clear he still has lots to say, and apparently not now afraid to say it.

So, the next Universal Museum on the list is the British Museum, lots of gossip and colourful characters there. Who is going to brave the lawyers and write the companion volume: "Gallery of Rogues", "Museum of.... "? Hmmm.

1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

I would like to make it clear, in case to some it is not, that here I am discussing MUSCARELLA's extraordinary text (which I read very carefully) and not the book which is reviewed, which I clearly state I have not read because it is not yet available here, and so I do not discuss it. There were several things in Muscarella's text that are of relevance to the themes of this blog.

Please buy Mr Gross's book, I am sure its a good read too.

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