Shooting stars are noted for a sudden burst of light that soon disappears. Their conduct is a metaphor for the lives of many in the public eye. Still, actors, musicians, politicians and the like, all strive to leave their mark upon the world. Are we mortals foolhardy in our immortal longings, or does the ambition, alone, make us noble? The question posed is too philosophic, perhaps, merely to point out that the light of a minor luminary has gone out.
My blog of 2/12/15 recounts the growing competition between the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) in New York and its neighbor, The Museum of Modern Art, (MOMA) — an institution that houses one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary work. Their rivalry began when Leonard Lauder, heir of the cosmetic empire, Estee Lauder, donated 78 of his Cubists paintings to the older institution, MMA, though it had no space to house them. (“The Met’s Power Failure,” by William Cohan, Vanity Fair, April 2017, pg. 127.) The new director, Thomas Campbell, eager to enhance his reputation, launched a building campaign to house his acquisitions, digging a financial hole bigger than the one he inherited.
What followed was the usual bad chemistry that arises when an inexperienced but ambitious director tries to fly too high too fast. His Board, at first titillated by the coup, began to grumble at the cost of renovation. They offered no personal financial support to help him, so Campbell was forced to slash his budget. That meant 100 layoffs from among the 2,500 workers. Shock waves shook the institution.
MMA’s staff is predominantly female and they began to complain about their director. Campbell was already known for his “friskiness” with his staff, (Ibid pg. 164) and one worker had already filed a harassment suit against him, which was settled out of court. (Ibid, pg. 164). The incident left him with diminished goodwill. When the firings began, the gossip mill ran 24/7, accusing him of exercising favoritism. Morale sank while Campbell’s financial woes continued to rise.
Debt, plus employee disaffection, plus an uneven management style represents the triple crown of leadership failure. Before he’d had time to unpack his bags, Campbell was out. MOMA, his competitor, no doubt harbors a quiet satisfaction. As for Campbell, losing his crown should have taught him a hard but vital lesson. His kingdom had rested not upon the new paintings he wished to hang on new walls but upon the good will of the women who did his work.