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Search for Museum Director Nears End

By Kristi L. Jobson, Crimson Staff Writer

The search for a new director for the Harvard University Art Museums is nearing an end, over a year after its long-time director announced that he would depart the museums for a new position in London.

A search committee composed of museum curators and Faculty of Arts and Sciences professors began examining a list of about 80 possible candidates last spring. By June, they recommended five options, according to Marjorie B. Cohn, acting director of the art museums.

Towards August, Provost Steven E. Hyman was expected to recommend two final candidates to University President Lawrence H. Summers for an ultimate decision in late summer or early fall.

Though individuals involved in the search process refused to comment on individual candidates or the status of the search, The Boston Globe reported last week that the front-runner was Tom W. Lentz, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s International Art Museums division.

No stranger to the University, Lentz received both his masters and doctorate in Islamic art from Harvard. He assumed his post at the Smithsonian in 2000, heading up its Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Museum of African Art in 2000.

Cohn told The Crimson earlier this summer that familiarity with academic institutions was a crucial criterion in evaluating candidates.

Lentz is on vacation from the Smithsonian Institute for the month of August, and representatives in his office would not comment on a possible departure.

Art museums spokesperson Matthew Barone said there was “no pending date” for the naming of a new director. Hyman, speaking through a spokesperson, declined to comment.

Lentz or any new director will have to hit the ground running, filling the shoes of the well-loved James Cuno, who ran the museums for 11 years.

Abrams Curator of Drawings William W. Robinson, a member of the advisory committee choosing Cuno’s replacement, told The Crimson in June the search for a new director has the museums playing a “waiting game” before they can start renovations.

“We have five things at the starting line, and none can really go on until the others do,” he said.

Among the projects on deck are a drastic upgrade to the museums’ physical plant. Officials say that the Fogg—which has not been upgraded since 1927—badly needs a full renovation of its plumbing, wiring, disability access and climate control.

The collections require a major reconfiguration.

The Fine Arts Library, the Sackler Gallery and Werner Otto Hall will likely be reorganized during construction on the Fogg, and much of the museums’ artwork will have to be moved to temporary exhibition spaces throughout the city.

Museum officials have also long complained of inadequate exhibition space for their contemporary art collection. A plan to build a large modern art museum in Cambridge’s Riverside district was scrapped in the face of fierce community opposition last summer.

Meanwhile, museum employees have been told to expect substantial layoffs in the coming months, the short-term solution to a projected deficit of up to $1.5 million next year.

A task force of museum officials led by Cohn and Art Museums Deputy Director Richard D. Benefield has not yet decided what specific programs will experience cuts.

—Staff writer Kristi L. Jobson can be reached at jobson@fas.harvard.edu.

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