Rattling around the Galleries and Closets of the Met
A Contrary review by Laura M. Browning

        Even before page one, it’s clear that Danny Danziger knows museums: Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is dedicated to his mother, Gigi Guggenheim Danziger. One might expect that such a pedigree would lead Danziger to pen a reverent ode to one of the world’s great museums. And in a sense, he does—but his reverence is directed toward people as much as objets d’art, and the result is equal parts charm and art history.
Museum is a series of 49 interviews, beginning with a Honduran man named Juan Aranda, whose title is simply “cleaner,” and who is saving money to retire in his homeland with his family, and ending with Linden Havemeyer Wise, Special Counsel, whose family connections to the Met run several generations deep. The 47 in between are cleverly arranged alphabetically, neatly avoiding any hierarchical demands. Danziger edits out his questions so that each interview is a fluent vignette, and because florist and trustee appear back to back, the juxtapositions are surprising. With some thirty curators on staff, the book inevitably leans toward the Met’s collections, but these stories are also some of the richest, often telling of a curator’s love affair with a particular work of art. The edited interviews are only a few pages long—far too short, in some cases—but Danziger effectively paces the book so that baroque pianos (J. Kenneth Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Musical Instruments) is immediately followed by fighting crime (James Moran, NYPD). It is shallow but wide, and less trajectory than haphazard mosaic. 
If Danziger had anything to do with the cover design, it’s clear, too, that it reflects his belief that the Met is both majestic and minute. The front cover of the book is a gorgeous night view of the Met, glowing with artificial light against an azure sky. All visual ephemera are erased save the lone street sweeper, his back to the Met, push-broom in motion. This is the “behind the scenes” from the subtitle, the cleaner and librarian and special events manager who are as much a part of the Met as the curators and director and trustees. This isn’t an exposé; there’s no juicy New York gossip, no apparent discontent amongst the employees. It’s a light book, but not a fluffy one. It’s a book about poor immigrants and rich ones, about people who write million-dollar checks and the people who check their coats, about Egyptian art and musical instruments. The repeating punch line is, “I love my job and I’m lucky to be here.”
        But, as Danziger writes in his introduction, it doesn’t make it any less interesting that everybody is in awe of their employer. Museum isn’t just about the Met, after all, it’s a little bit about a lot of things. 

Laura M. Browning is a senior conservation writer for The Nature Conservancy and has written extensively on the arts and museums.

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commentary | poetry | fiction | chicago | autumn 2007
Danny Danziger
2007,  Viking Adult

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