Thomas Campbell Demonstrates Passion at TED Talk


A video of a TED Talk by Metropolitan Museum director Thomas P. Campbell from this spring is new on the TED website this month. The tapestry expert’s talk is titled “Weaving Narratives in Museum Galleries.”

Campbell starts with an anecdote from early in his career, when he took a course in London at an unnamed institution, with a “passionate” instructor named Pietro. In a slide lecture, Pietro showed Titian’s Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-24) and asked his class, “What is this?”

“It’s a bacchanal by Titian,” Campbell offered.

“You boneless bookworm!” Pietro shot back. “It’s a fucking orgy!”

Pietro was committed to getting his students to look at objects with their eyes rather than their intellect, Campbell explains in a trademark TED Talk heartstring-tugging moment, because he himself was going blind.

In the 16-minute talk, which has already garnered over 100,000 views and in which Campbell cites “passion” four times, the Met director describes his growing interest in tapestries, stemming from their function as “an incredibly potent form of propaganda” for the wealth and public image of their owners, he explains. He recounts the process of curating his 2002 exhibition “Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence,” which turned out, unexpectedly, to be a blockbuster show.

Perhaps as part of what he describes as a mission to break down the image of the museum’s elitism, Campbell mentions how his son’s schoolmates, on a tour, took special notice of a dog “pooping” in the foreground of a particular tapestry and recalls a video of “pigs fornicating” in the Met’s 2011 blockbuster show “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.”

Making a case for the importance of the museum in the Internet age, Campbell maintains, “Nothing replaces the authenticity of the object, presented with passionate scholarship.”