This is a refreshing book, about the author's personal quest to transform the Metropolitan Museum of Art of N.Y., during his tenure as director of the museum (1967-1977).
When Hoving arrived as Director, he assessed the Met as a disorganized institution, a collection of collections, located in a mixture of buildings and architectures that gave "the impression of something worse than incomplete; it seemed forgotten and forlorn...." At the time Hoving was offered the post, he was commissioner of Parks, under the tenure of Mayor John Lindsay, whose mayoral campaign the author had joined with a leave of absence from... the Met, where, after receiving his Ph.D. in Art from Princeton University, he went from assistant curator to curator of the Medieval Department and the Cloisters. And indeed, it was Lindsay, when told the news about the directorship, who said: "...have you considered the boredom? Seems to me the place is dead. But, Hoving, you'll make the mummies dance." Hence the title of the book.
The story is a fascinating, at times egotistical and gossipy account of what it took to revolutionize an institution like the Met. From the seduction of the patrons and trustees, such as Nelson Rockefeller, Walter Annenberg, Brooke Astor, Robert Lehman, to the development of a network of experts, smugglers and famous collectors, Hoving takes us on a journey that reveals a lot about the inner workings of power, expertise and glamour, in the art world.
At the end, we are led to believe Hoving's final insight about his tenure:
"With the creative energy of the Trustees who had been on my side and the stuff who supported me, the most sweeping revolution in the history of art museums had taken place. The Met, once an elitist, stiff, gray, and slightly moribund entity, came alive. THE MUMMIES DID DANCE......"