BMA's loss is the other BMA's gain Arnold Lehman: Director goes to larger museum with greater problems.

March 23, 1997

IN 18 YEARS under the direction of Arnold Lehman, the Baltimore Museum of Art has built a substantial endowment almost from scratch, doubled its viewing space and more than doubled its attendance. No need to ask why the Brooklyn Museum of Art hired him away.

Mr. Lehman, a former New York official, will take over that city's second largest museum with a vast collection in triple the space of the Baltimore Museum of Art. But it has a marginally smaller endowment and substantially fewer visitors. For too many Manhattan residents, disdainful of Brooklyn and its beautiful Prospect Park, it is in the wrong borough on the wrong side of the East River.

Mr. Lehman arrived at Baltimore's BMA at the end of an expansion drive and kept it going permanently. He will arrive at New York's BMA in September in the middle of an expansion drive there. Again, he is meant to keep it going. He presided over an exciting array of exhibitions and activities representing diverse tastes here, and presumably will do the same there. His expertise in outreach will be invaluable.

Some clarification is in order. Baltimore's is the original BMA. The Brooklyn Museum added to its name and initials only this year to create confusion for our benefit, while ending confusion up there over what's inside.

Patrons of Baltimore's BMA will miss Arnold Lehman. He initiated temporary swaps of groups of paintings with other museums, hosted hugely successful free First Thursday evenings to a new audience, invested in a major Warhol collection, attracted the Levi collection of contemporary sculpture among other major acquisitions and dispatched the Cone Collection to a smash hit exhibition in Tokyo.

Although the BMA's greatest energies have been in the arts of the past half-century, Mr. Lehman's last gift to Baltimore will be a show in October from the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, the great repository of European decorative arts. That will be the smile of the departed Cheshire cat.

Mr. Lehman has earned his new challenge. Baltimore's BMA, in replacing him, must seek continuity in institutional growth, in a climate of diminishing government support, and unity among different constituencies. That's a large challenge, too.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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