There was muted acclaim for Peter Gelb’s announcement last week that the Met had turned a $22 million annual deficit into a $1 million surplus, despite a continuing box-office decline. Credit where it’s due: he has balanced the books.
But three caveats remain.
- Saleroom observers point out that Gelb has been selling the company’s silver – specifically a piece of jewellery made in 1855 for Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, and donated to the met by the singer Lucrezia Bori. It fetched $2, 330, 929 last October at Christie’s Geneva. Without that sale, Gelb would have been in deficit again.
- Next, still fighting a widening gap, Gelb plans to sell naming rights to the Met’s space at Lincoln Center.
- Thirdly, union negotiators are demanding to know why he took the company to the brink of closure in summer 2014 when he had all these assets to call in. Some are accusing him of outright deception.
Gelb has pulled off a balancing trick, but it’s not a triumph, let alone a long-term solution. The Met cannot carry on losing subscribers to death and disinterest. It has to find a winning new formula to place it once more at the centre of New York’s attractions. Nothing in Gelb’s latest announcement suggests he has scratched the surface of that crisis.
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