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Rogues' Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art

3.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  371 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
“Behind almost every painting is a fortune and behind that a sin or a crime.”
With these words as a starting point, Michael Gross, leading chronicler of the American rich, begins the first independent, unauthorized look at the saga of the nation’s greatest museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In this endlessly entertaining follow-up to his bestselling social history 740
Hardcover, 545 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,180)
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Sep 11, 2009 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: work, general-history
I only read the final 1/3 of the book for work purposes. It's all right, I suppose, but I was not so entranced that I felt compelled to read the beginning 2/3. The problem is that the author has to deal with a lot of names. He also had two main themes running through: the members of the board and the curatorial staff of the Met. Either subject would be enough for one book. Here I felt confused and dissatisfied.

Oh, and PICTURES. Surprisingly for a book about a visual medium, there were no picture
Note to self: don't donate to the Metropolitan Museum, apparently they don't want you. This narrative history of the museum's bosses may be the last blow to my desire to work there, which was on its last legs over the whole repatriation issue.

There are, frankly, too many damn people — I had a really hard time keeping track of who was who and what they were responsible for and what their relationships were to each other. Junior Rockefeller made the biggest impression, and seemed the sanest person
Jan 05, 2015 Jennyb rated it did not like it
Shelves: unreadable
You know how it is very difficult to decide not to finish a book? Like, no matter how much you dislike something, you tend to force yourself to slog through it? Masochistic as that is, I do it all the time, especially with non-fiction. Even if I don't like it, I figure, I'm likely to learn something from it, right?

But this time, this one, no. Could. Not. Finish. It wasn't so bad at first, reading how the Met was established, and all of the very rich people who donated its initial collections. A
Michael Llewellyn
Jun 27, 2013 Michael Llewellyn rated it really liked it
This is probably way more than you need/want to know about the Met, but Gross has done another splendid and thoroughly researched job as he traces the history of this venerable Fifth Avenue institution. I admit to skimming over certain heavily detailed passages, but because I lived in Manhattan 1972-1991 I remember Thomas Hoving's crazy shenanigans and enjoyed revisiting them. Some deliciously colorful anecdotes provide relief from what could've been a dry, dusty work. Who knew that black activi ...more
Jason Speck
Jun 27, 2016 Jason Speck rated it really liked it
I've always been someone who's wanted to know how the powerful make decisions--what motivates them, what they care about, who's really running the show. I especially want to know when the powerful people in question, who purport to operate a major institution for the benefit of the public, are very, very reluctant to let the truth be known. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a grand palace, but its history is more that of a dirty saloon. You want people behaving badly? Check. Behaving illegally? ...more
Jun 11, 2014 Zoe rated it really liked it
Incredibly detailed account of the source and circumstances surrounding what must be almost every large donation ever made to the Met. It gets repetitive in parts, hashing out the details of courting the moneyed, contesting wills, willfully ignoring or working against obtaining anything "modern," and obtaining grey- or black-market antiquities, then dealing with the fallout of all of the above.

I can understand the low ratings of other readers but I found it incredibly successful as a straight p
Feb 16, 2010 Bill rated it really liked it
An interesting if too gossipy book about very rich people involved in the MET. I enjoyed the book though perhaps he dwells too long on the sex life and affairs of long forgotten socialites. Through all of this he managaes to talk about the museum itself though if that is your main interest you might want to pick up another volume. I still would highly recommend it as a portal into the world of the rich if not so famous.
May 09, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it
Wow! The history of the Met is like a microcosm of New York history. So much stuff I never knew.

After this, I totally want to read up on J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers. The stuff we hear about them now is such a caricature, I want the whole picture. I think their lives and works ought to be required reading, both as a warning about what not to do and for the positive works we can learn from, as well. I was struck by the fact that J.P. Morgan inherited a bunch of money and instead of lying arou
Jan 18, 2010 Randy rated it liked it
I found this well-researched book an interesting look into the history and workings of the Metropolitan Museum, so I'm grateful I read this book and therefore learned a lot about the world of art and art museums.

And yet I'm disappointed with ROGUE'S GALLERY. Here's why: So many characters come and go I couldn't bond with any of them. I suspect this wasn't just because of the number of characters but because the characters are, for the most part, depicted unfavorably; so I got the strong feeling
Jan 27, 2015 Richp rated it really liked it
As a history of a great art museum, I thought this was quite good. Living in So. California, I've followed the stories of the Getty museums, and this book comes across as very true, although I cannot vouch for details.

As entertainment, this book was not much, and I understand the low ratings.
The Visual
May 18, 2014 The Visual rated it really liked it
I do agree with majority of the comments that photographs would have been a great help since there is a cast of hundreds in this book. But I did find the theme fascinating especially for someone who lives a continent away from New York City! After reading this, I searched for images of the names mentioned.
Aug 23, 2009 Dkeslin rated it it was amazing
If you want to learn all about the politics and schemes put together in the formation and running of one of the world's greatest museums, this is the book for you. It discusses all of the wealthy patrons who amassed fabulous art collections which they donated to the museum as well as discussion of all of the directors through the years and their methods of running the institution. A lot of graft and corruption went in to creating this, seemingly flawless, collection. The Met is one of my favorit ...more
Penny Cipolone
Jul 13, 2014 Penny Cipolone rated it did not like it
Such a wealth of information wrapped in too much detail and name-dropping. Instead of being about how the Metropolitan functions, this is more about how the socialites and business magnates who ran the Metropolitan functioned. There is little about the art here except for the art of influencing people with money. Not recommended for anyone unless you really like the background stories of the art world.
Judith Cartisano
Dec 04, 2015 Judith Cartisano rated it really liked it
I lived in New York City for a very long time. I spent many hours at the Metropolitan Museum. So, I found much of the information in this book interesting. However, it wasn't quite the read I expected. It did not deliver enough scandal.
Elizabeth Desole
Parts of this were fascinating but parts of it just plain dragged. I really think it needed a more thorough edit. For example, there was a very long section (at least it felt that way to me) about Rockefeller's dealings with the sculptor Barnard. I understand that there were personal dealings about a personal purchase of a sculpture that colored their dealing in acquiring the CLoisters for the MET, but it could've all been dispatched with a couple of sentences, not page after page. Unfortunately ...more
Apr 19, 2015 Andrew rated it it was ok
Wow, what boring writing. This book could have easily been hundreds of pages shorter and still the same story. I couldn't wait for it to end, despite being an interesting topic.
Apr 27, 2014 Telesilla rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
While you get a look at how the Met works, this is pretty much an expanded gossip column. After a while, it just gets boring.
Elizabeth K.
Dec 18, 2009 Elizabeth K. rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2009-new-reads
Oh, this was so limp. It's a look at the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a focus on some of the individuals who were key influences on the Museum and its collection at various points from its founding to more contemporary times. It's not a bad premise, but I hated the simpering tone that ran through it and always seemed to be saying "OMG! Rich people! Behaving badly! Quelle surprise!" The writing was fairly weak as well. Reading it was like having a long conversation with the aut ...more
Linda Gustaffsen
Apr 23, 2014 Linda Gustaffsen rated it did not like it
An author I normally like, he took some really interesting material and made it drag.
Jun 03, 2016 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-fun, 2016
Nowhere near as scandalous as the title implies...basically it's a warts-and-all history of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Museum. Narrowly focused, but necessary reading if you are interested in the Met.
Jim Mullen
Nov 27, 2011 Jim Mullen rated it really liked it
This is a great gossipy read about the millionaires who founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It's full of tales of the Morgan's and the Rockefellers who built the thing to house their private collections. They and their rich friends never intended that it be open to the public. What would the ignorant hordes know about art? They wanted this to be a collection to be viewed by their set. It's a great story, told well and it really changes how you see the art once you know how it cam ...more
Sep 23, 2014 Cara rated it really liked it
This was a really fun read. A bit gossipy but it was fun to read about the history of the Met and all the great characters involved, JP Morgan, Rockefellers, Brooke Astor, etc.
Jan 02, 2012 Jerry rated it it was amazing
In some ways this is an invaluable primer to the names of the movers and shakers of modern New York. It definitely helped me understand so many of the names of families you see in the museum as well as around the city. It's a must-read for anyone interested in social climbing, the motives of the rich and wannabe famous, and the cultural patrimony of New York City. The museum is not even 150 years old yet it survives as symbol of what New York City wanted to be and what it ultimately become in th ...more
Mar 19, 2011 Ali rated it it was ok
Eh. Interesting factoids, but Gross's writing style drives me a bit crazy. An example:

"The fortunes of old Europe fell into steep decline just as America emerged from depression in the 1880s and began making unprecedented sums of money in the new industries, railroads, banking, and trade, the era's equivalent of this century's Internet gold rush."

I have a feeling the information in this book could be turned into something really interesting and worth reading, but it hasn't happened here.
Jul 03, 2010 Raquel rated it did not like it
I REALLY wanted to like this book, but I found it boring, petty and trivial. Some of the scandals Gross exposes in his hefty history of one of the world's greatest museums are genuinely interesting and juicy. Yet much of the book is plagued by insignificant minor kerfuffles that really did not make me look at the Met and its ties to New York society and government in any new way. Gross is an engaging writer, but his obsession with the controversial and sensational overpowers his narrative gifts. ...more
May 22, 2009 Jillian rated it it was ok
This book was pretty good, although I have to say, I think interviewing the author ended up being more of an interesting experience than the actual read. It's lengthy, and tedious at times, confusing at others. What he's set out to do, I respect and enjoy. And some of it was really fascinating, particularly the older history. But as the book drags on, it feels palpably like Gross was rushing to finish. Also, his final musings on the future of the Met, while pertinent, are a little thin.
Apr 02, 2010 Paula rated it really liked it
A fascinating history of the people involved with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, from its earliest days to the present. From its first director, with his spurious credentials, to the current head of this American iconic institution, Michael Gross' history is full of stories of the staff and the rich and famous whose collections and in many cases, self-interest, created this well-know and world-class art collection on Fifth Avenue. Definitely an eye opener and an engrossing read.
Nov 08, 2010 Jill rated it liked it
I read 940 Park Avenue, and this book to have the same gossipy tone. Gross clearly has it out for a particular section of the elite. I am not sure why since it would help him in his research if he could keep these people in his good graces. There are a few art historical claims that are totally false (like his assertion that American Art was not popular until the early 20th c).

I am enjoying it so far, and plan to read Thomas Hoving's Making the Mummies Dance next.
Nov 13, 2009 Carolyn rated it liked it
This started out as a history book but then got too much into the back stories of the various social families that control the Met. I would have liked more information on acquisitions and curators...although I guess in the end that was the thesis of the book, that the wealthy families of New York are really the ones that control the museum, and always have.
Nov 28, 2009 Mona rated it did not like it
ok, I am giving up on this book. I have made it through three moguls and could pick up the others at any time. You do not have to read this book in a straight line. It would be useful as a reference book for someone interested in one of the moguls, but really I did not learn that much from the first part of the book.
I am letting it go for now.
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This book list is a work in progress. Michael Gross is recognized as one of America’s most provocative writers of non-fiction–its “foremost chronicler of the upper-crust,” says His latest book Unreal Estate, to be published November 1, 2011, is a west coast version of his bestseller, 740 Park, this time exposing the most exclusive neighborhoods of Los Angeles–Beverly Hills, Holmby Hill ...more
More about Michael Gross...

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