A Gift of Art

Thanks to Pulitzer for an important and exciting donation

Christmas came early for the Harvard Art Museum. Arts patron and former Harvard curator Emily Rauh Pulitzer has recently announced a donation of $200 million worth of art and an additional $45 million—historically, the Harvard Arts Museum’s largest ever donation. The $45 million will go towards the costs of renovating the Fogg Art Museum while the art, mostly twentieth century, will give Harvard’s curator another 31 pieces to display once the renovations are done in 2013.

This donation marks a promising step towards fulfilling University President Drew G. Faust’s goal of rejuvenating the arts at Harvard. Last November, Faust announced “a new beginning for a new era of arts at Harvard” and assembled a task force for integrating arts at the University. In April of this year, David Rockefeller ’36 donated $30 million to renovate the Fogg Art Museum and support the arts task force, making this recent gift the second major art donation in Faust’s first year of tenure. Pulitzer’s contribution thus comes at an opportune moment in Harvard’s history, when the University is making a concerted effort not only to build upon its collection, but also to make accessible to students and academics alike. Hopefully, this gift will have the effect of drawing more students to the museum and making the arts an integral part of Harvard.

The donation includes works by some of the most important names of twentieth century, including sculptures by Brâncusi and a painting by Picasso. According to Helen Molesworth, Head of the Harvard Art Museum’s Modern and Contemporary Art Department, “It adds to the strengths that we have in cubist painting [and will] make them deeper and richer.”

But, more importantly, the donation enables Harvard to expand into previously unchartered territory with regard to contemporary art. “It allows us for the first time to display the very important advances made in sculpture in the 1960s and ’70s,” says Molesworth. “The Pulitzer gift contains eight pieces from that period in our history so it radically changes our ability to tell the story of post-World War II art.” These sculptures include works by Donald Judd and Richard Serra, as well as other significant contemporary figures.

We also hope that this gift will encourage future donations, particularly in non-Western art. For Molesworth, “One of the things we need to do in the first half of the century is to expand our collection to reflect developments and traditions in other parts of the world, most significantly Latin America.” Not only would this make the Harvard Art Museum’s collection more diverse and exciting, it could potentially serve as a valuable teaching tool for classes that explore art outside the Western tradition.

Pulitzer’s donation is an extremely generous contribution to Harvard’s ability to enhance artistic teaching and research opportunities at the University; it also brings more world-class art into the Cambridge area for everyone nearby to enjoy. We are sure the museum will find a way to use this gift in a way that does it justice.