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Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is America’s wealthiest and arguably the world’s greatest art museum—and behind every great institution lies a complex, multifaceted story. Now, Michael Gross gives us the first unauthorized and definitive history of the museum and the juicy details of the lives of the powerful players who made it what it is today. With a colorful cast of cha The Metropolitan Museum of Art is America’s wealthiest and arguably the world’s greatest art museum—and behind every great institution lies a complex, multifaceted story. Now, Michael Gross gives us the first unauthorized and definitive history of the museum and the juicy details of the lives of the powerful players who made it what it is today. With a colorful cast of characters that includes directors Guy-Philippe Lannes de Montebello, Luigi Palma di Cesnola, and Thomas P. F. Hoving, and a glittering array of supporting players such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Annette de la Renta, J. P. Morgan, Brooke Astor, Robert Moses, Diana Vreeland, and Jane Wrightsman, Gross looks at the museum’s rich social history and exposes the secrets behind the upper class’s cultural and philanthropic ambitions. From the trustees to the donors and the curators to the collectors, the startling 138-year tale of the Met and the masterpieces that live inside its walls makes for an astonishing and satisfying read.


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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is America’s wealthiest and arguably the world’s greatest art museum—and behind every great institution lies a complex, multifaceted story. Now, Michael Gross gives us the first unauthorized and definitive history of the museum and the juicy details of the lives of the powerful players who made it what it is today. With a colorful cast of cha The Metropolitan Museum of Art is America’s wealthiest and arguably the world’s greatest art museum—and behind every great institution lies a complex, multifaceted story. Now, Michael Gross gives us the first unauthorized and definitive history of the museum and the juicy details of the lives of the powerful players who made it what it is today. With a colorful cast of characters that includes directors Guy-Philippe Lannes de Montebello, Luigi Palma di Cesnola, and Thomas P. F. Hoving, and a glittering array of supporting players such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Annette de la Renta, J. P. Morgan, Brooke Astor, Robert Moses, Diana Vreeland, and Jane Wrightsman, Gross looks at the museum’s rich social history and exposes the secrets behind the upper class’s cultural and philanthropic ambitions. From the trustees to the donors and the curators to the collectors, the startling 138-year tale of the Met and the masterpieces that live inside its walls makes for an astonishing and satisfying read.

30 review for Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    3.5 stars. BE AWARE! , if you are not that interested in the MET museum or have never been there or just want to read a simple book before your first visit, this is NOT the book for you. This book is complicated, boring at some points and confusing at others. The other only comparison I can find to describe this book would be , if you watch a hot dog documentary, you learn a lot about the process and you learn how a hot made , but did you really wanted to know that? .only read this book if you h 3.5 stars. BE AWARE! , if you are not that interested in the MET museum or have never been there or just want to read a simple book before your first visit, this is NOT the book for you. This book is complicated, boring at some points and confusing at others. The other only comparison I can find to describe this book would be , if you watch a hot dog documentary, you learn a lot about the process and you learn how a hot made , but did you really wanted to know that? .only read this book if you have a passion about the MET and/or the elite art collectors that made the museum possible, as passion will be the only think that will get you through this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I only read the final 1/3 of the book for work purposes. It's all right, I suppose, but I was not so entranced that I felt compelled to read the beginning 2/3. The problem is that the author has to deal with a lot of names. He also had two main themes running through: the members of the board and the curatorial staff of the Met. Either subject would be enough for one book. Here I felt confused and dissatisfied. Oh, and PICTURES. Surprisingly for a book about a visual medium, there were no picture I only read the final 1/3 of the book for work purposes. It's all right, I suppose, but I was not so entranced that I felt compelled to read the beginning 2/3. The problem is that the author has to deal with a lot of names. He also had two main themes running through: the members of the board and the curatorial staff of the Met. Either subject would be enough for one book. Here I felt confused and dissatisfied. Oh, and PICTURES. Surprisingly for a book about a visual medium, there were no pictures. I could not get a feel for anything without the images, and was surprised at how much I missed not seeing a visual representation of the people being discussed (it might have helped a lot to differentiate them).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Note to self: don't donate to the Metropolitan Museum, apparently they don't want you. This narrative history of the museum's bosses may be the last blow to my desire to work there, which was on its last legs over the whole repatriation issue. There are, frankly, too many damn people — I had a really hard time keeping track of who was who and what they were responsible for and what their relationships were to each other. Junior Rockefeller made the biggest impression, and seemed the sanest person Note to self: don't donate to the Metropolitan Museum, apparently they don't want you. This narrative history of the museum's bosses may be the last blow to my desire to work there, which was on its last legs over the whole repatriation issue. There are, frankly, too many damn people — I had a really hard time keeping track of who was who and what they were responsible for and what their relationships were to each other. Junior Rockefeller made the biggest impression, and seemed the sanest person in this entire book (a Rockefeller. Sane. I know.), while Tom Hoving was just endless. I was kind of surprised by how little attention was paid to Phillippe de Montebello, but that's probably a lack of historical perspective talking.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jennyb

    You know how it is very difficult to decide not to finish a book? Like, no matter how much you dislike something, you tend to force yourself to slog through it? Masochistic as that is, I do it all the time, especially with non-fiction. Even if I don't like it, I figure, I'm likely to learn something from it, right? But this time, this one, no. Could. Not. Finish. It wasn't so bad at first, reading how the Met was established, and all of the very rich people who donated its initial collections. A You know how it is very difficult to decide not to finish a book? Like, no matter how much you dislike something, you tend to force yourself to slog through it? Masochistic as that is, I do it all the time, especially with non-fiction. Even if I don't like it, I figure, I'm likely to learn something from it, right? But this time, this one, no. Could. Not. Finish. It wasn't so bad at first, reading how the Met was established, and all of the very rich people who donated its initial collections. After that though, it was mostly a gruesome lot of detail about a bunch of indistinguishable white guys bickering over... well, god, everything really. At the halfway point, when I couldn't keep track of who was whom, and I couldn't have cared any less what they were bitching about, I realized it was time to admit defeat, and move on to the next book in the pile.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Llewellyn

    This is probably way more than you need/want to know about the Met, but Gross has done another splendid and thoroughly researched job as he traces the history of this venerable Fifth Avenue institution. I admit to skimming over certain heavily detailed passages, but because I lived in Manhattan 1972-1991 I remember Thomas Hoving's crazy shenanigans and enjoyed revisiting them. Some deliciously colorful anecdotes provide relief from what could've been a dry, dusty work. Who knew that black activi This is probably way more than you need/want to know about the Met, but Gross has done another splendid and thoroughly researched job as he traces the history of this venerable Fifth Avenue institution. I admit to skimming over certain heavily detailed passages, but because I lived in Manhattan 1972-1991 I remember Thomas Hoving's crazy shenanigans and enjoyed revisiting them. Some deliciously colorful anecdotes provide relief from what could've been a dry, dusty work. Who knew that black activists invaded a dinner at the Museum's exclusive private dining room and released cockroaches? Or that Brooke Astor and Joan Payson indulged in a playful tug of war with a $19,000 Islamic bowl? Once you read Rogues' Gallery, you'll never see museums in the same light.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    An interesting if too gossipy book about very rich people involved in the MET. I enjoyed the book though perhaps he dwells too long on the sex life and affairs of long forgotten socialites. Through all of this he managaes to talk about the museum itself though if that is your main interest you might want to pick up another volume. I still would highly recommend it as a portal into the world of the rich if not so famous.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    ok, I am giving up on this book. I have made it through three moguls and could pick up the others at any time. You do not have to read this book in a straight line. It would be useful as a reference book for someone interested in one of the moguls, but really I did not learn that much from the first part of the book. I am letting it go for now.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Denise Tamayo

    For me, who has the ability to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art often, this was a very interesting book of how and with what funds the Museum got started and its history of the Directors and Board Members from then (late 1800's) to present day. It is a book laden with different personalities of the NYC elite (J.P. Morgan, J.D. Rockefeller, Nelson Rockefeller, up to the director ... Thomas P Campbell in 2008. There are many intriguing details: how the Cloisters was procured for the Met, how i For me, who has the ability to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art often, this was a very interesting book of how and with what funds the Museum got started and its history of the Directors and Board Members from then (late 1800's) to present day. It is a book laden with different personalities of the NYC elite (J.P. Morgan, J.D. Rockefeller, Nelson Rockefeller, up to the director ... Thomas P Campbell in 2008. There are many intriguing details: how the Cloisters was procured for the Met, how it was the directors' role to woo famous (and ultimately very rich patrons of the arts). It is a very densely detailed book and somewhat eye opening. For me, it was difficult to read in a timely fashion; I think that it is best read in chapters over a long period of time (so one can digest what one has read).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nana

    I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. While there is a lot of interesting, in depth overview into the long winding history of the MET, the author often wastes time going into the salacious, gossipy weeds. And this book is already quite long. It is really more about the museum’s personalities than the museum itself. If you care more about the actual art than the personal lives of rich New Yorkers, I would pass. Check out “Capital Culture” about the NGA for a better and more substantiv I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. While there is a lot of interesting, in depth overview into the long winding history of the MET, the author often wastes time going into the salacious, gossipy weeds. And this book is already quite long. It is really more about the museum’s personalities than the museum itself. If you care more about the actual art than the personal lives of rich New Yorkers, I would pass. Check out “Capital Culture” about the NGA for a better and more substantive museum history.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Valeria

    In some ways this is an invaluable primer to the names of the movers and shakers of modern New York. It definitely helped me understand so many of the names of families you see in the museum as well as around the city. It's a must-read for anyone interested in social climbing, the motives of the rich and wannabe famous, and the cultural patrimony of New York City. The museum is not even 150 years old yet it survives as symbol of what New York City wanted to be and what it ultimately become in th In some ways this is an invaluable primer to the names of the movers and shakers of modern New York. It definitely helped me understand so many of the names of families you see in the museum as well as around the city. It's a must-read for anyone interested in social climbing, the motives of the rich and wannabe famous, and the cultural patrimony of New York City. The museum is not even 150 years old yet it survives as symbol of what New York City wanted to be and what it ultimately become in the 20th century.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vicky P

    This book is, generally speaking, an excellent source of information, and I did enjoy it; however, it suffered badly from needing a better editor. Additionally, the conclusion was tepid, and the last 30-40 pages were critical not only in a way that didn't make sense logically, but also in a way that didn't entirely convince me that the author or many of the people quoted (often still very much alive today) have ever enjoyed a museum.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rogue Reader

    Gossipy, yes but also thorough and penetrating in its disclosures and revelations. Too many characters to keep straight, but the progression through staff, trustees and donors leads to incredible wealth, great art and expectations perhaps from another era. I wish I'd known more when I was there.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Interesting, but quite tedious. I learned a lot, but can't say I really enjoyed the book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Raquel

    Like

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michele Statile

    Slow reading. Really boring at some points. Definitely not the story that the title portrays.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Austin

    Hard to get into!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jason Speck

    I've always been someone who's wanted to know how the powerful make decisions--what motivates them, what they care about, who's really running the show. I especially want to know when the powerful people in question, who purport to operate a major institution for the benefit of the public, are very, very reluctant to let the truth be known. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a grand palace, but its history is more that of a dirty saloon. You want people behaving badly? Check. Behaving illegally? I've always been someone who's wanted to know how the powerful make decisions--what motivates them, what they care about, who's really running the show. I especially want to know when the powerful people in question, who purport to operate a major institution for the benefit of the public, are very, very reluctant to let the truth be known. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a grand palace, but its history is more that of a dirty saloon. You want people behaving badly? Check. Behaving illegally? Check. Turning art into a four letter word? Check. This is the true story of how some of our grandest institutions and most beautiful works of art are wrapped in shady deals, incredible egos, unalloyed avarice, and the desire for the rich and famous to live forever on the walls of the Met. There are a lot of people who rated this book lower because of the sheer volume of names involved, and that's a fair criticism. Gross could have done more to provide guides to the major players involved in the creation and operation of one of the finest museums in the world. But if you persist you are in for a hell of a tale, a fascinating, amusing and often disgusting look at the wealthy and powerful personages who have made the Metropolitan Museum their goal, fiefdom, or plaything. It's also a look into the oft-sordid history of buying art and the birth of American museums. I once read that when you took into account the sheer number of people who get their fingers into the making of a movie, it's a wonder how we end up with any good movies at all. The same might be said of The Met: when you factor in the egos, money, power and ultimately selfish reasons for collecting art, it's amazing that such a grand edifice to human expression exists for the 'great unwashed' (who, it should be noted, were not really given access to the museum for the first twenty years because The Met's leaders refused to open the museum on Sundays). If you love museums, or Art, don't miss this book. There's a reason that wing of your favorite museum is named for someone you've never heard of, or a particular painting was donated by another person whose name sounds vaguely familiar. You owe it to yourself to know the Who and the Why behind the What that's before you. It's probably the exact opposite of the beauty you've come to see.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Wow! The history of the Met is like a microcosm of New York history. So much stuff I never knew. After this, I totally want to read up on J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers. The stuff we hear about them now is such a caricature, I want the whole picture. I think their lives and works ought to be required reading, both as a warning about what not to do and for the positive works we can learn from, as well. I was struck by the fact that J.P. Morgan inherited a bunch of money and instead of lying arou Wow! The history of the Met is like a microcosm of New York history. So much stuff I never knew. After this, I totally want to read up on J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers. The stuff we hear about them now is such a caricature, I want the whole picture. I think their lives and works ought to be required reading, both as a warning about what not to do and for the positive works we can learn from, as well. I was struck by the fact that J.P. Morgan inherited a bunch of money and instead of lying around and spending it in a rock star life, he worked to build it. (Ok, yes, let's practice business ethics, but I think we could totally learn from his work ethic.) Something else that struck me about the men who started and supported the Met for all those years in the beginning is that no one "retired." Generations of trustees came to the office and all their museum meetings - to keep it going, to get funding, to plan and build new facilities - until they died at 70 and 80. They were rich, they had money, and they kept working. There were also truly fascinating stories about the acquisition of the art and some of the controversy surrounding it. Very interesting discussion of private property and public domain. If a farmer in Italy sells an artifact that he found on his private property, does it still belong to Italy? How old does it have to be before it is no longer the farmer's private property to sell? But yes, a good book. It was well paced and a well woven story. I'd recommend it for people who like New York or art, or are just interested in how a big institution runs and keeps running for 140 years.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

    Incredibly detailed account of the source and circumstances surrounding what must be almost every large donation ever made to the Met. It gets repetitive in parts, hashing out the details of courting the moneyed, contesting wills, willfully ignoring or working against obtaining anything "modern," and obtaining grey- or black-market antiquities, then dealing with the fallout of all of the above. I can understand the low ratings of other readers but I found it incredibly successful as a straight p Incredibly detailed account of the source and circumstances surrounding what must be almost every large donation ever made to the Met. It gets repetitive in parts, hashing out the details of courting the moneyed, contesting wills, willfully ignoring or working against obtaining anything "modern," and obtaining grey- or black-market antiquities, then dealing with the fallout of all of the above. I can understand the low ratings of other readers but I found it incredibly successful as a straight piece of reference, bookended by a detailed account of the author's ongoing battle with a bureaucracy determined to thwart him and his virtuous exposé journalism (by his account). I guess there are some ugly bits, especially regarding antiquities without provenance, money-grabbing tactics, and in-fighting among curators, directors, and trustees, but I really didn't come across anything SO HORRIBLE as to explain the museum's apparent stonewalling of the author. Maybe that's the point, that whatever they're covering up is worse, but honestly, what kind of bureaucratic nonsense deserves that much protection? Everyone involved is human with all the associated foibles and failings expected, just blown up on a grand scale. Anyway, it can get a bit eye-glazing at points with its belabored attention to detail and worshipful tone of the museum's place in the city and the world, but I still found it a useful and necessary reference of a venerable institution.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Randy

    I found this well-researched book an interesting look into the history and workings of the Metropolitan Museum, so I'm grateful I read this book and therefore learned a lot about the world of art and art museums. And yet I'm disappointed with ROGUE'S GALLERY. Here's why: So many characters come and go I couldn't bond with any of them. I suspect this wasn't just because of the number of characters but because the characters are, for the most part, depicted unfavorably; so I got the strong feeling I found this well-researched book an interesting look into the history and workings of the Metropolitan Museum, so I'm grateful I read this book and therefore learned a lot about the world of art and art museums. And yet I'm disappointed with ROGUE'S GALLERY. Here's why: So many characters come and go I couldn't bond with any of them. I suspect this wasn't just because of the number of characters but because the characters are, for the most part, depicted unfavorably; so I got the strong feeling that Mr. Gross is biased against the wealthy and wrote his book with a clear agenda. I'm sure many of the people who helped make the Metropolitan Museum what it is today were decent people with a strong love of art, some of whom donated their collections so the public - the non-rich - could enjoy them. I would have liked to have met those generous people. If I had this book would be a fairer, more-accurate history, and therefore a better one.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dkeslin

    If you want to learn all about the politics and schemes put together in the formation and running of one of the world's greatest museums, this is the book for you. It discusses all of the wealthy patrons who amassed fabulous art collections which they donated to the museum as well as discussion of all of the directors through the years and their methods of running the institution. A lot of graft and corruption went in to creating this, seemingly flawless, collection. The Met is one of my favorit If you want to learn all about the politics and schemes put together in the formation and running of one of the world's greatest museums, this is the book for you. It discusses all of the wealthy patrons who amassed fabulous art collections which they donated to the museum as well as discussion of all of the directors through the years and their methods of running the institution. A lot of graft and corruption went in to creating this, seemingly flawless, collection. The Met is one of my favorite museums and after having studied art history for 15 years, it still remains a thrill to enter it and climb up that grand staircase. Those who contributed created one of the art wonders of the world, as far as I am concerned-----no matter how they did it!!!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Desole

    Parts of this were fascinating but parts of it just plain dragged. I really think it needed a more thorough edit. For example, there was a very long section (at least it felt that way to me) about Rockefeller's dealings with the sculptor Barnard. I understand that there were personal dealings about a personal purchase of a sculpture that colored their dealing in acquiring the CLoisters for the MET, but it could've all been dispatched with a couple of sentences, not page after page. Unfortunately Parts of this were fascinating but parts of it just plain dragged. I really think it needed a more thorough edit. For example, there was a very long section (at least it felt that way to me) about Rockefeller's dealings with the sculptor Barnard. I understand that there were personal dealings about a personal purchase of a sculpture that colored their dealing in acquiring the CLoisters for the MET, but it could've all been dispatched with a couple of sentences, not page after page. Unfortunately the book was largely like this. The most entertaining part was the mid 20th century, maybe because there were first-hand sources? Only a book to read if you're really interested in the topic, otherwise it can be rather plodding

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth K.

    Oh, this was so limp. It's a look at the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a focus on some of the individuals who were key influences on the Museum and its collection at various points from its founding to more contemporary times. It's not a bad premise, but I hated the simpering tone that ran through it and always seemed to be saying "OMG! Rich people! Behaving badly! Quelle surprise!" The writing was fairly weak as well. Reading it was like having a long conversation with the aut Oh, this was so limp. It's a look at the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a focus on some of the individuals who were key influences on the Museum and its collection at various points from its founding to more contemporary times. It's not a bad premise, but I hated the simpering tone that ran through it and always seemed to be saying "OMG! Rich people! Behaving badly! Quelle surprise!" The writing was fairly weak as well. Reading it was like having a long conversation with the author while he insisted upon talking behind his hand the entire time for effect. Poor effect, I would say.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

    In some ways this is an invaluable primer to the names of the movers and shakers of modern New York. It definitely helped me understand so many of the names of families you see in the museum as well as around the city. It's a must-read for anyone interested in social climbing, the motives of the rich and wannabe famous, and the cultural patrimony of New York City. The museum is not even 150 years old yet it survives as symbol of what New York City wanted to be and what it ultimately become in th In some ways this is an invaluable primer to the names of the movers and shakers of modern New York. It definitely helped me understand so many of the names of families you see in the museum as well as around the city. It's a must-read for anyone interested in social climbing, the motives of the rich and wannabe famous, and the cultural patrimony of New York City. The museum is not even 150 years old yet it survives as symbol of what New York City wanted to be and what it ultimately become in the 20th century.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    Eh. Interesting factoids, but Gross's writing style drives me a bit crazy. An example: "The fortunes of old Europe fell into steep decline just as America emerged from depression in the 1880s and began making unprecedented sums of money in the new industries, railroads, banking, and trade, the era's equivalent of this century's Internet gold rush." I have a feeling the information in this book could be turned into something really interesting and worth reading, but it hasn't happened here.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jim Mullen

    This is a great gossipy read about the millionaires who founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It's full of tales of the Morgan's and the Rockefellers who built the thing to house their private collections. They and their rich friends never intended that it be open to the public. What would the ignorant hordes know about art? They wanted this to be a collection to be viewed by their set. It's a great story, told well and it really changes how you see the art once you know how it cam This is a great gossipy read about the millionaires who founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It's full of tales of the Morgan's and the Rockefellers who built the thing to house their private collections. They and their rich friends never intended that it be open to the public. What would the ignorant hordes know about art? They wanted this to be a collection to be viewed by their set. It's a great story, told well and it really changes how you see the art once you know how it came to be in the museum in the first place.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    This book was pretty good, although I have to say, I think interviewing the author ended up being more of an interesting experience than the actual read. It's lengthy, and tedious at times, confusing at others. What he's set out to do, I respect and enjoy. And some of it was really fascinating, particularly the older history. But as the book drags on, it feels palpably like Gross was rushing to finish. Also, his final musings on the future of the Met, while pertinent, are a little thin.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    A fascinating history of the people involved with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, from its earliest days to the present. From its first director, with his spurious credentials, to the current head of this American iconic institution, Michael Gross' history is full of stories of the staff and the rich and famous whose collections and in many cases, self-interest, created this well-know and world-class art collection on Fifth Avenue. Definitely an eye opener and an engrossing read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    I read 940 Park Avenue, and this book to have the same gossipy tone. Gross clearly has it out for a particular section of the elite. I am not sure why since it would help him in his research if he could keep these people in his good graces. There are a few art historical claims that are totally false (like his assertion that American Art was not popular until the early 20th c). I am enjoying it so far, and plan to read Thomas Hoving's Making the Mummies Dance next.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Penny Cipolone

    Such a wealth of information wrapped in too much detail and name-dropping. Instead of being about how the Metropolitan functions, this is more about how the socialites and business magnates who ran the Metropolitan functioned. There is little about the art here except for the art of influencing people with money. Not recommended for anyone unless you really like the background stories of the art world.

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