The Wrath of Khan: Former Met Dept. Chairman Takes Swipe at New York Review of Books

A little-noticed art-world catfight is going on in the pages of The New York Review of Books. The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit “The World of Khubilai Khan” was reviewed unfavorably by Eliot Weinberger in the Dec. 23 issue, for among other flaws, letting the Mongols off the hook as mass murderers. In a letter published last week, the Met’s (since retired) chairman of Asian Art, James C.Y. Watt, wrote that the critic’s piece brought to mind an Englishman “who, when taken to a fine Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, could not wait to show off his sophisticated knowledge of Chinese cuisine and ordered egg Fuyung and sweet-and-sour pork.” Mr. Watt chastised the NYRB for its willingness to “so casually assign someone, anyone, to report on an exhibition organized by a group of curators and scholars who do know something about the subject.”

Mr. Weinberger’s Jan. 13 reply criticized the curator’s alleged snobbery, the idea “that nobody, an ‘anyone’—the type who orders the wrong thing in a restaurant—should be permitted to review.” The critic added that, in writing the review, he had used “sources that seemed more reliable, but perhaps they too were sweet-and-sour pork eaters.”