June 2007

Melissa A. Barton

nonfiction

Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger

When Danny Danziger proposed writing a profile of the Metropolitan Museum of Art focusing the people who make the Met a success -- curators, trustees, security guards, florists, and many others -- he met with some puzzled reactions. But most people who have spent time around the people who work in museums will understand: the people who keep museums running are some of the most interesting people around.

From the more than 2,000 full-time employees and the hundreds of part-time workers and volunteers who staff the Met, Danziger chose 52 to interview for Museum: Behind the Scene at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The interviews -- presented almost like first-person essays and skillfully edited to maintain the individual voices -- are arranged in alphabetical order, so the first interview, a cleaner, is followed by the Chief Security Officer and then the Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture.

The diversity of people represented means there’s something to interest almost everyone. My favorites were the interviews with J. Kenneth Moore, Curator of Musical Instruments (a former security guard), and Michael Barry, Consultive Chairman of Islamic Art, who speaks as passionately about his career as a humanitarian aid officer as he does about Islamic art. 

These are opinionated people, and equally opinionated readers will probably find statements about art and education that make them grit their teeth as well as applaud (I found both). But above all, these are interesting people who make the Met the place it is, from the cleaners and waitresses to the director and the trustees. Many of the curators speak primarily of their subjects, but there are personal stories as well.

Danzig’s skills as an interviewer and editor are smooth; he brings out people’s stories without his own voice intruding. My only disappointment with Museum was that the focus on the current employees left me wishing to know a little more about some of the historical personages who laid the foundations. Aside from that, I found Museum to be a compelling and fascinating read with an approach I’d love to see applied to other institutions in the future.

Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger
Viking
ISBN: 9780670038619
304 Pages