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Rogues' Gallery The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum Hardcover – May 5, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For more than a century, the coupling of art with commerce has made New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art the world's most glamorous whore, according to this sprawling history. Gross, a veteran chronicler of the rich and beautiful (Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women), highlights the relationship between the directors and curators who amassed the Met's collection—fakes and questionably acquired antiquities included, he notes—and its patrons. In his telling, the exchange of money for prestige (contributor John D. Rockefeller wanted good publicity after striking workers were massacred at the family's Ludlow mine) is a tawdry business, with the museum's high-toned seduction of well-heeled egotists, who in turn felt betrayed when newer collections impinged on their own galleries. Not the best-curated of exhibitions, Gross's thematically unfocused chronicle is overstuffed with the details of fund drives, building plans and bequests; some figures feel like they were profiled mainly because there were juicy anecdotes about them—a rarity in tight-lipped Met circles—not because their doings are especially illuminating. Still, browse long enough and you'll find behind-the-scenes dirt and an intriguing look at the symbiosis of culture and cash. (May 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Praise for Rogues' Gallery

“Gross demonstrates he knows his stuff. It's a terrific tale, with all the elements of a gossipy, color-rich, fact-packed Vanity Fair-style takedown.” –Maria Puente, USA Today

“Provocative.” –Reid Pillifant, New York Observer

“Any and all facts that I knew of personally, the author gets absolutely right, which makes me trust much else in the book–and there's a great deal else, indeed an entire history of the museum beginning from its gradual birth in the 1870s, told as a kind of extended gossip dish, a dense and exhaustively factual one, about the powerful egos that drove it into prominence and kept it there. I am not particularly sympathetic to any view of the world as a gossipy chronicle. I didn't expect to like the book's tone, but I found a good 100 pages had gone by before I could even put it down. . . . The book is important, and what's more, splendidly readable.” –Melik Kaylan, Forbes.com

"Highly entertaining." –Manuela Hoelterhoff, Bloomberg  
"Gross’ s coup is not only in the vast amounts of information he has obtained but also in his ability to tell a story about the rich and powerful people of New York nearly effortlessly and without disdain." –Jillian Steinhauer, ArtInfo.com

". . . a pageturner that unravels like an elite whodunit, and is reaping encomiums from advance readers. Destined to be the talk of art circles in the U.S. and abroad. . . . Not only by art connoisseurs but by culturati hungry for a captivating, tattle-tale yarn, Rogues’ Gallery will spark a furor." –George Christy, The Beverly Hills Courier

"Gross relishes every nefarious or audacious episode as he marches through the museum’s fascinating history of curatorial excellence, social climbing, and skulduggery. It’ s a tale of elitists versus populists, of spectacular gifts and scandals, trustees refusing to consider art made by living artists and formidable innovators, especially Robert Moses and Thomas Hoving. Whether he is portraying the museum’s first director, the scoundrel Luigi Palma di Cesnola, John D. Rockefeller (the museum’s “greatest benefactor”), curator Henry Geldzahler, Diana Vreeland of the Costume Institute, or, in the most sordid chapter, vice chairman Annette de la Renta, Gross zestfully mixes factual reportage with piquantly entertaining anecdotes." –Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Gross is a good reporter, ever-digging, fanatical about details and without cooperation from the Met, he has produced a fascinating history of the museum, its place in the world, its place in the New York social firmament and its ups, downs, ins, outs, plus the trajectories of its various directors. . . . a fabulous, realistic, well-researched book " –Liz Smith

"Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum, has all of New York talking." –Style.com

". . . a must-read." –Rush & Molloy, New York Daily News

". . . destined to be a must-read amongst the cognescenti, not to mention the art world." –David Patrick Columbia, New York Social Diary

“Michael Gross hangs the eccentric and dazzlingly rich characters behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” –Vanity Fair

“Sharp and well-constructed, the readers will marvel at how the institution transcended the bickering and backhanded power plays to become one of the largest and most prestigious museums in the world. A deft rendering of the down-and-dirty politics of the art world.” –Kirkus Reviews

“For more than a century, the coupling of art with commerce has made New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art the world’s most glamorous whore, according to this sprawling history. . . . Behind-the-scenes dirt and an intriguing look at the symbiosis of culture and cash.” –Publishers Weekly

“Michael Gross has proven once again that he is a premier chronicler of the rich. Rogues’ Gallery is an insightful, entertaining look at a great institution—with all its flaws and all its greatness.” —Gay Talese, author of A Writer’s Life

“The title alone tantalizes but once you pick up this book and start reading about the good and the great and the hijinks of high society, it becomes un-put-downable!!!” —Kitty Kelley, author of The Family: The Real Story of The Bush Dynasty

Praise for 740 Park
“Tantalizing, intimate, engrossing, intriguing. A deeply researched book that deserves a prominent place among the social histories of 20th-century Manhattan.” —Washington Post

“One building as [a] microcosm of life on a silver platter. The voyeurism is so giddy that 740 Park sometimes feels like an extended feat of free-association. . . . Outside the work of Edith Wharton or Jane Austen, it’s rare to find such brazen speculation about exactly what people are worth. Changing demographic and economic realities have made 740 Park a mirror of its times.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times

“[A] great read . . . gossipy . . . revealing.” —People

“This is social history at its finest.” —Dominick Dunne

“740 Park is the home of some of the world’s wealthiest people. Gross takes readers inside its doorman-protected walls, exposing the shocking and sometimes tragic secrets the building has been guarding for nearly a century.” —Star

“It took a reporter and storyteller like Michael Gross to lay out the epic tale—truly, the story of American capitalism and 20th-century New York society—that is 740 Park Ave. . . . This is the kind of heady terrain Gross knows well.” —Hartford Courant

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; First Edition edition (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767924886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767924887
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Any wealthy, social-climbing, self-important, status-seeking individual even sensing that Michael Gross is taking an interest in their doings would be well advised to donate every penny of their riches to charity and flee to South Dakota, pronto. At least, that's my advice after reading Rogues' Gallery, a peek behind the scenes at the shenanigans of the donors, trustees, curators and directors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the nearly 140-year life of that institution. Indeed, given all the dysfunction that Gross chronicles, I'm amazed that the museum manages to open its doors at all, much less function more or less smoothly as a superb collection of the world's greatest art.

This is an intriguing book to appear at what may be a major turning point in the Met's history. Some of today's mega-collectors (hedge fund tycoon Steve Cohen, retailer Eli Broad and casino king Steve Wynn)have shown little interest in getting involved with the Met; others have favored their regional museums or contemporary art collections. Meanwhile, its core function -- offering visitors a collection of the 'best of the best' -- is challenged by what former director Philippe de Montebello has referred to dispargingly as ultra-nationalists bent on destroying the universal cultural mission of the great museums. (Translated: countries like Greece and Turkey would like their pilfered art back, please.) It's not surprising that Gross didn't win the cooperation of Met authorities for his work on this book, and almost certainly it's being scoured (as I type) by various attorneys for people who would love to sue Gross for libel. (They probably won't succeed; his most outrageous insights into the characters of folks like Oscar and Annette de la Renta seem to be well-documented.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating glimpse into an amazing museum and into a life that most of us would have no chance to ever be a part of. What strikes me most is not the incredible amount of money and privilege but the owning of paintings that I know and have seen at The Met- the stories behind many of them having once been hung in someone's apartment. It's just hard to take in. The fact that someone needs generations of connections to be part of this world. The politicking makes politics look like nothing.

The details and stories are so rich. I can't imagine how long it took to research this book. Having just finished reading it last night I am dying to take a trip to NYC now.

Now, the Kindle version is very disappointing. There are countless typos and information left out. A painting sold for "%&@"... what does that mean?? How much did it sell for? Or someone is worth "si^*%^^" million dollars. Huh? Or a name will appear as characters I can't even find here on my keyboard. Or the new wing cost "-*^^" million dollars. It was incredibly frustrating.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinary book from an extraordinary writer. I grew up ten blocks from the Met and spent my childhood being dragged there against my will, but I was still in awe of the building, the collection, and the many countries and cultures I was exposed to through art.

The solid exterior of Hunt's main building gives the appearance of order, quiet, perfection and harmony, yet inside there is a fascinating world of great egos, money, power, and hundreds of ghosts, not all of them nice ones.

Gross takes us through the ages, from the post civil war moguls who founded the museum, to the new tycoons of the present age. It is a vast tale, but one which Gross weaves with his usual clipped style, throwing in colorful tidbits along the way.

This is a scholarly book which does not read like one. That is its greatest asset. I now know a great deal about this mysterious institution, and I'm happy to have learned so much in so short a time, and in such a pleasant way.

Charles Avery Fisher
New York, NY
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Does this book deliver the goods? Alas not. Let's face it, a biography of the Met could be, would be one of the most exciting biographies of an institution. However, in the hands of Michael Gross, the book reads like a series of gossip columns strung together. Some of the stories should be as exciting as anything...how Dietrich Bothmer was able to secure a priceless collection of Greek vases from the Hearst Corporation or how the Museum out-negotiated the Smithsonian in obtaining the ancient Dendur Temple from Egypt - while the 6 day war between Egypt and Israel was raging.

But what the book lacks is excitement for the art...why certain pieces meant "everything" to certain curators or industrialists. In so many instances, Michael Gross overlooks the critical issue - how owning and exhibiting certain masterpieces of mankind's most exhilarating artistic creations moves the soul, forces us to rethink the very meaning of human existence and importance. As an example, the book says almost nothing about the 'Unicorn in the Garden' tapestries in the Cloisters (The Medieval Branch of the Met in upper Manhattan), We get just a few words how John Rockefeller bought them for about a million dollars and then a sentence or two that suggests they were casually donated to the Museum. These are the same tapestries that are unmatched anywhere in the world but for Paris in the Cluny Museum - the "Lady and the Unicorn" set. People will travel from all corners of the globe to the Cloisters to get a glimpse of these, to be awed by these, to try to comprehend the symbolism of these. But that story seems unimportant to the author of this book.

I much preferred Thomas Hoving's "Making the Mummies Dance." Sure, this ex-Director of the Met is a controversial figure.
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