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After waiting several months for Harvard to accept the gift, a philanthropic organization last week withdrew its offer of a sculpture on the theme "Gay Liberation" by a nationally renowned artist.
A trustee of the fund and a campus gay rights activist said yesterday they thought the University may have decided not to take the George Segal sculpture because it dealt with homosexuality; the head of the Fogg Museum and an alumnus involved in negotiations on the sculpture said Harvard refused the offer to avoid involvement in a New York City political squabble over the work.
The Mildred Andrews Fund, which extended the offer to the University this fall, will likely agree to fund any other sculpture on the topic of gay liberation that Harvard chooses to commission, Peter Putnam, the trustee in charge of the fund, said last night.
But Putnam said he didn't know if the University would accept a work on the theme. "Of course the nature of the Segal work" led to its rejection, Putnam said, adding, "I think they might be worried about its effect on alumni funding and other things."
"It certainly can't be because he's not a well-known sculptor," J. French Wall '83, president of the Gay Students Association, said. "It's pretty clear that politics played a role," he added.
But Seymour Slive, director of the Fogg and the man who reviewed the proposal, said "there was no way we could get involved" because the work was being offered to New York City.
And Edmund Goodhue '68, an alumnus interested in art who talked with Slive about the offer, said yesterday, "I think Slive was correct in not getting Harvard involved." Goodhue said the offer to Harvard may have been used as a "political crowbar" in the negotiations with New York, where the sculpture has met community resistance.
The New York offer was withdrawn before any offical proposal was made to Harvard, Putnam said. He refused to estimate the value of the work, but said single Segal figures were selling for more than $50,000. The "Gay Liberation" piece, intended for outdoor display and made of white enamel and bronze, has four figures--a pair of men and a pair of women--and two park benches.
Segal's works are included in the collections of most major American museums, Carroll Janis, owner of New York's Janis gallery where Segal's work has been displayed in the past, said yesterday.
"He's one of the major American sculptors," Janis said. "There are many museums trying to buy his work, much less get it free," he added.
"There are museum retrospectives of his work all the time," Jerry Gorovoy, an employee of the Janis gallery, said. Janis called the Gay Liberation sculpture "quite a wonderful piece."
Putnam expressed disappointment that Harvard had not taken the statue and said he had withdrawn the offer only because "it was very clear they didn't want it." The with-drawal is "firm and final," Putnam said, however. "I'll probably just sit on the statue for a while," he added.
If Harvard decides to commission any sculpture on the same theme, "we would very sympathetically consider funding it," Putnam said. "We would almost certainly do so," he added.
Segal, in California working on another sculpture, could not be reached for comment.
The work, originally planned for a park in New York City, hit political resistance there, Putnam said. "They said it might take ten years to make a final decision," he said, adding, "I was told the mayor wasn't anxious to push the thing, that it was ticklish politically."
The fuss in New York dampened Harvard's interest in the statue, Goodhue said, adding, "maybe in five years it will make sense to consider the piece from an artistic point of view."
Slive, who said Segal was an "important" sculptor, added he had not even seen photographs of the work.
"I don't blame Mr. Putnam for being frustrated," Wall said, adding that since the statue's installation, maintenance and repair would have been paid for "it's pretty clear the nature" of the statue was what the University objected to.
University administrators "will only concede to a half-day holiday for Martin Luther King's birthday; they won't even concede to a statue for gay liberation," Wall said
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