Arts / Museums

The Secret World of the Met Museum — Former Official Takes You Inside Hallowed Art Institution in New Novel

Preferential Treatment With Christine Coulson

BY // 12.13.19
photography Jackie Neale Chadwick

The art world and the realm of the world’s hallowed museums sometimes seem shrouded in secrecy — but those curtains get pulled back in Christine Coulson’s new book, Metropolitan Stories: A Novel. Coulson’s novel is comprised of a series of vignettes, each taking place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she worked for more than 25 years in the advancement and executive director’s office before leaving in 2017 to write full time.

Just as Lauren Weisberger’s wildly popular 2003 novel Devil Wears Prada exposed the fashion divas who dictate trends, Coulson’s tome serves as an indulgent expose of sorts. The Met is the largest art museum in the United States and welcomes millions of visitors annually.

But behind the walls of priceless artwork are miles of corridors where thousands of staff members are at work on everything from conservation to shaking down the world’s moneyed elite in order to raise the enormous funds required to keep the institution relevant and engaging. Coulson’s book is filled with characters who weave their way through her stories.

There is the somewhat raffish and naïve security guard, Radish, and the prickly and at times caddish director, Michel. Coulson was recently in Dallas for a book chat, led by another longtime veteran of art museums — myself — for a standing-room audience of members at the Park House.

She regaled the group with juicy insider tidbits that ranged from the slightly licentious to her most memorable moment on the red carpet for the Met Gala, when a paparazzo yelled “She’s no one!” as throngs of photographers lifted their lenses upon Coulson’s arrival. When asked to pick The Met’s most stylish donor, she responded without skipping a beat: Jayne Wrightsman, the grand doyenne who died in April.

During her whirlwind press tour and stop in Dallas, I posed Coulson with PaperCity’s Preferential Treatment questionnaire. BTW: I ordered quite a few of her few books for Christmas presents this year.

Where are you right at this moment: On a flight to Dallas.

The zip code you call home: 10014

Style of residence: Apartment

Pajamas or in the buff: Olivia von Halle pajamas

Early or late riser: Both. I am a champion sleeper, easily recharged.

Coffee or tea: Weak English Breakfast tea, with lots of milk, all day.

Morning beauty ritual: L’Oréal lipstick #857

Evening beauty ritual: Pond’s Cold Cream

Go-to daytime ensemble: Citizens of Humanity denim jumpsuit

Ideal evening look: Le Smoking suit and Taffin jewelry

One thing you always keep in mind when getting dressed: Don’t match.

Your happy-place destination: Manhattan

The hotel you call your home-away-from-home: The Bauer Palazzo, Venice. The Hotel Locarno, Rome. The Portobello Hotel, London.

Travel bag: Brunello Cucinelli backpack

Last person you cocktailed with and what was your poison: 250 friends to celebrate Metropolitan Stories: A Novel. Stella Artois.

Dream concert: Bach in the 18th Century

Store where you wish you had an unlimited charge account: Charlie Smith Gallery, London

Items currently on your coffee table: Books! Piles of books, including Izzy Goldman’s new catalog of Japanese prints; a Sheila Hicks book designed by Irma Boom; Lily Tuck’s novel, Sisters; the complete works of Lydia Davis; Isaac Mizrahi’s memoir, IM; Leanne Shapton’s Guestbook.

On top of the books: an Alice Attie drawing held down by a stripe-y rock, a bowl of Venetian beads, a chunk of coral from the old Chelsea flea market and the 19th century polychromed hand of a saint

Last movie you saw: JoJo Rabbit

Hall pass for a dalliance: Alexander Ferris, a character in my novel.

Who would play you in the movie of your life: Kristin Scott Thomas

If you weren’t in your current profession what would you be doing: Still working at The Met.

Secret skill: Hyper-realistic drawing

Guilty pleasure: Sam Jackson paintings: 11 and counting!

Favorite memory working at the Met: Sorting through the correspondence between the American Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt and the legendary 19th century collector Lousine Havemeyer, when I was an intern.

Favorite exhibition at the Met: Ever? Impossible. Now? “The Colmar Treasure” at The Cloisters, a brilliant example of how questions can be better than answers.

Favorite exhibition (outside of the Met) you’ve seen in the past five years: “Bernini” at the Villa Borghese in Rome (2017)

Metropolitan Stories is available at Interabang Books in Dallas, 5600 West Lovers Lane, interabangbooks.com.

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