Morgan closes museum over security concerns Action taken 1 week before new exhibit

March 03, 1998|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dan Thanh Dang and contributing writer Sheila Hotchkin contributed to this article.

Morgan State University's art museum, renowned for its extensive African-American collection, has been closed abruptly amid "concerns" over the security of the artworks and over the museum's management, a university spokesman said yesterday.

The James E. Lewis Museum of Art, home of more than 3,000 works, closed its doors without notice Thursday, a little more than a week before the opening of a planned exhibition of women artists.

A university spokesman said the museum has been temporarily closed to conduct an inventory, and may reopen by the end of next week.

"There were concerns raised about inventory control, security and management," said Wiley Hall, director of communications. He would not say what prompted those concerns, but he did acknowledge that the museum's locks had been changed.

"As a result of the internal review, they felt a need to upgrade the security," Hall said. He could not say whether artworks are missing, but added that there had been no allegation of missing works.

University President Earl S. Richardson, when asked about the museum Saturday, had said he was unaware of any major problems, other than some "personnel issues" he would not discuss.

Hall said that no personnel actions had been taken against the museum's director, Gabriel S. Tenabe, or any of the facility's other four employees. He said Tenabe was not conducting the inventory, but was participating.

But Tenabe said last night that he no longer has a key for the museum and is not involved in the inventory, despite nearly 20 years of working there -- and at least a decade as director.

"At the moment I'm on a short vacation, so I can't tell you what's going on there," Tenabe said when reached by telephone at his home. He referred questions about his and the museum's status to the university administration.

The museum is on Morgan's campus on the ground floor of the Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center, on Hillen Road near Cold Spring Lane. A sign on the locked entrance to the museum reads: "Location temporarily closed." A similar recorded message greeted telephone calls yesterday, and referred inquiries to the dean of arts and sciences, Burney J. Hollis. Hollis did not return phone calls.

Tenabe said the museum was preparing its fourth annual exhibition of women's art when the facility was closed. The show, featuring works by 10 local artists, is slated to open Sunday and run through this month.

The exhibiting artists had planned to mount their artworks last weekend, but could not get in because of the closure. Beginning the show on schedule "is still possible," Tenabe said, "but everything is in the hands of the university authorities."

The Lewis Museum is named for a prominent Baltimore sculptor, longtime Morgan State art professor and prolific collector. James E. Lewis, who died in August, amassed what many critics considered a remarkable body of African-American art and staged exhibitions for local artists.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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