Philippe de Montebello talks about Hispanic society, NFTs, fashion as art – WWD


Philippe de Montebello doesn’t think the Hispanic Society Museum & Library is one of the underrated museums – he knows it.

As chairman of the HSM&L board, he is unquestionably adamant and understandably biased on the subject. In an interview on Tuesday, de Montebello said the museum “is unequivocally the most important institution under one roof with the most comprehensive collection with a very high level of quality of almost every aspect of art and the Spanish culture which include books, manuscripts etc. including of course a huge component of the huge heritage in Latin America, the Philippines and all parts of the world where Spanish [people] have had an impact. »

On Thursday, the museum will unveil “Nuestra Casa: Rediscovering the Treasures of Hispanic Society.” Curated by Madeleine Haddon, a London-based curator and art historian for the Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition highlights pieces from the Hispanic Society’s permanent collection that are on display at the Washington Heights museum for the first time. in five years. The show magnifies the arts, literature and history of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America from antiquity to the present day.

During the museum’s recent renovations, some of the works that will be on display have toured other institutions such as the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, among others. HSM&L is expected to fully reopen early next year.

Objects in the new exhibit come from Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru and beyond and span the 10th and 20th centuries. The “Duchess of Alba” by Francisco de Goya (1797), the “Portrait of a little girl” by Diego Velázquez (1638-1642) and “The Man from Montevideo” by Miguel Viladrich Vilá (1923-1925) are some of the most popular selections.

Many know de Montebello as the longtime former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, having held that position from 1977 to 2008. Since then he hasn’t really navigated, with various art-related roles and pursuits. Just back from two and a half days in Spain for a doctoral thesis defense at the University of Valencia, the New Yorker discussed the upcoming show, fashion as art, NFTs and better access to arts.

In his view, museums should set trends, not follow them, and create conversations. “Collections are not immobile, inert, [nor] dead. Each work of art has several stories. There are many different ways to look at them. The people themselves, the visitors, have different backgrounds, different preparations and different visions of things. Thus, the multiplicity of views on works of art is something that must also influence the way in which museums present art and discuss art, giving as much opportunity to the diversity of views without losing sight of all factual information and rationale. to be of a particular work or a particular set of works.

The Hispanic Society Museum & Library will present works from its permanent collection.
Courtesy of HSM&L

As traditional museums and art institutions take heed of the need to appeal to more diverse audiences, the HSM&L exhibition shows more than its works by El Greco, Goya and Sorolla, including relatively Latin American artists. unknown.

The paintings, drawings, sculptures and ceramics of the exhibition – “a mini anthology of the contents of the museum” according to de Montebello – in a beautiful gallery on the ground floor of the East building. The street-level location allows the museum to rotate from what it described as “an extremely rich permanent collection” of 750,000 objects. Visitors will be able to access the show from Thursday to Sunday at no admission cost.

When asked if other museums are placing a higher priority on diversifying their collections with Latino artists, as they have started with black artists, de Montebello said, “It’s obviously something that we are examining. But every museum is different. We are not a generalized museum. We are also a museum that acquires very little obviously for financial reasons. We would definitely keep an eye on diversity as one of the building blocks and also how we harvest our collection.

The Hispanic Society Museum & Library will present works from its permanent collection.

The Hispanic Society Museum & Library will present the new exhibit starting February 17.
Courtesy of HSM&L

As for how museums are increasingly interested in fashion-related shows as a way to introduce people to their museums and showcase fashion in a different way, de Montebello said, “The definition of art is constantly expanding. It’s not new. There is now a multiplicity that did not exist in previous centuries where the canon was very fixed and very Eurocentric. You now have a sort of healthy feeling that wherever good design and careful aesthetic considerations are placed – for whatever reason – we have an object worth looking into.

Unlike a lot of people, he said he wasn’t critical of the Guggenheim ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibit in 1998. “It was a beautiful show. I couldn’t see why a motorcycle that moves shouldn’t be considered good design. I’m not saying it’s art, but it’s good design and it should be considered as such,” de Montebello said. “Clothing has always had a place in a combination of a receptacle for good design, for manifestations of changing fashions over time, which is interesting. From the toga in Rome to what’s happening today, just because it can be worn again doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a good design.

Through the Emmy-winning weekly arts program “NYC-ARTS,” which he co-hosts with Paula Zahn on public television, de Montebello continues to educate the public and provide free access to the arts. A professor at the Institut des Beaux-Arts, he noted that his role at the museum was always “to communicate, instruct, explain and inspire”. Expanding the horizons of the people he touches is what he has found most satisfying.

Asked how other museums could try to accommodate more people beyond ticket sales or an online presence, de Montebello said: “I don’t think welcoming more people is the fundamental problem – it gives them the best possible experience. It’s really not about numbers. It’s about quality — the quality of what’s presented and how it’s communicated. Simple numbers are arithmetic.

Admitting that numbers are key for many museums, he said with a chuckle: “I can’t comment on what other museums are doing. Good luck, I wish them.

Philip of Montebello

Philip of Montebello
Courtesy of HSM&L

De Montebello declined to discuss the difficult few years the Met has had, due to the pandemic shutdown and the resulting financial fallout. He continues to serve as Director of Acquavella Galleries, a position he held in 2017. Founder Bill Acquavella has been a friend for over half a century. “He has a gallery that does very good exhibitions. Last on Picasso’s drawings was an exhibit that MoMA or the Met could have been proud of,” de Montebello said.

When Acquavella featured contemporary artists, like artist Wayne Thibault before his death late last year, de Montebello conducted conversations with him. “I do some of these things – nothing to do with sales. It’s just a matter of presence. I come to openings, I greet people and so on. It’s a very informal monitoring arrangement.

Reluctant to name any of his current favorite artists or museums, he explained: “My favorite today will change tomorrow. I can’t answer that. I am a syndic at the Prado. I like the Prado for what’s in it.…I like The Frick for what’s in it. No, I have a little too universal taste to choose favorites. My favorite is the Hispanic Society.

Given the opportunity to speak to those who might be hesitant to go to HSL&M due to its too-remote location on West 156th Street, de Montebello said, “I live on the Upper East Side. When I hop on the number 1 train on 96th Street, it takes me exactly 20 minutes. It took me over 20 minutes, much longer, to get to the Whitney [Museum of American Art] when the traffic is bad where I live. Depending on where you live, it’s not far.


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