Who will replace Walters' outgoing director?

March 14, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

After Bergman, who?

As Walters Art Gallery director Robert P. Bergman prepares to leave for his new post at the Cleveland Museum, a search committee has been interviewing candidates to succeed him.

In accordance with museum custom, the Walters' search committee will not talk about the selection process. Jay M. Wilson, president of the board of directors and member of the committee, said, "The search process must be strictly confidential, and I really can't tell you anything about it." Asked when a decision might be made, he said only, "The objective is to have someone selected before Bob's departure in June, but one never knows." In conversations with knowledgeable sources who asked to be anonymous, however, a number of names have surfaced as possible candidates:

* Maxwell Anderson, 37, director of Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, scholar of ancient art and former assistant curator of Greek and Roman art at New York's Metropolitan Museum. Reached at Emory, Mr. Anderson said, "We've had some very pleasant discussions" on the subject of the directorship, and "I assume I am" a current candidate.

* Jay Levenson, 44, lawyer and guest curator at Washington's National Gallery who organized, among other shows, the gallery's massive 1991 blockbuster "Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration." Mr. Levenson did not return calls.

* Glenn Lowry, 38, director of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, native of the United States and Islamic scholar who was former curator of Near Eastern art at the Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington. Mr. Lowry said he had had "some conversations with individuals about the possibilities" but was not a candidate.

* Peter Sutton, 43, curator of European paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and scholar of northern Renaissance painting. Mr. Sutton said he was not and had never officially been a candidate, though he had talked to a Walters curator about the job.

* Paul Tucker, 42, professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and an expert on Monet who organized the highly praised 1990 exhibit "Monet in the '90s: The Series Paintings" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Mr. Tucker declined to say whether he is a current candidate, though he said "there have been conversations" about the position.

Women candidates

Sources also mentioned two women candidates, one from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif., and one from the Asia Society in New York, but did not know names or positions. There may, of course, be other candidates, one of whom could be the ultimate choice.

A look at each of the aforementioned possibilities, candidate or no, indicates some of the things the Walters might be looking for in a new director. Mr. Sutton, for instance, is a Renaissance curator whose interests would have fit in well with the Walters' collections, and he would have brought a fresh perspective to the job. The last two directors, Mr. Bergman and Richard H. Randall Jr., have been medievalists.

How important is the director's scholarly perspective when museum directors must give most of their time to administration and fund-raising, and have little left over for active curatorial or scholarly work? Presumably the director's interests have some effect on collecting and exhibition activities, and aside from that Mr. Wilson contends that the Walters director can still function in a scholarly way.

"We did provide for Bob a sabbatical year to refresh his intellectual faculties, write articles and actually work on an exhibition, 'Splendor of the Popes' [1989]." And, Mr. Wilson adds, the Walters now has a deputy director in charge of development, which relieves the director of some of the fund-raising duties.

When the Walters hired Mr. Bergman in 1981, it got an art historian from a university (Harvard) rather than a museum person with a curatorial background. It has been pointed out that an academic, such as Mr. Bergman, tends to be more theory-oriented, while a curator, such as his predecessor Mr. Randall, tends to be more object-oriented. Four of the five named as possibilities have been museum curators, and the fifth has curated a major show. Does that indicate that the search committee feels it's time for a curator-type again? Mr. Wilson says not necessarily.

The credentials

"What we are looking for is someone who has the professional credentials -- I mean the relevant education, training and experience, but who demonstrates, in the interview process, leadership talent and vision. We are not limited by any such conceptual ideas."

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