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Tom Lentz on the Rose

Posted by Geoff Edgers  January 30, 2009 05:07 PM

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I reached Harvard Art Museum director Tom Lentz to ask him about the Rose.

"What struck me is the fact that nobody seemed to recognize the teaching value of that collection. Obviously works of art are more than just beautiful things. Ultimately, theyíre very powerful teaching and learning resources."

This, to me, is even more interesting.

"Look, obviously I'm not a lawyer, but when I first heard about it, the first thing I thought was 'wow, what does this mean with all the donors?' My guess is that this story is going to take a while to unfold and itís going to take a lot of different twists and turns."

Then I asked Lentz a question which, I cautioned, might sound a bit insane. I know Harvard's endowment is down and that Lentz is working on raising money for the Quincy Street renovation. But isn't this a rare or perhaps unique opportunity for Harvard to immediately buy its way to a stunning, modern and contemporary art museum? Why not find a few donors willing to pony up $100 million plus and buy a chunk of the Rose collection with the first-option to purchase whatever else is of value?

"We have a couple of problems right now. We have very limited space in which to show works of art. But I donít think people realize that we have extremely limited funds for acquisitions. Unless we had a donor or a group of donors step forward, thereís virtually nothing we can do. And given Harvardís own issues, itís a scenario that I view as highly unlikely."

"Iíll just go back to what we said. I think itís going to take a long time for this story to unfold. But Iíll be surprised if those works go to market. But even if they did, our ability to assemble donors who could purchase those kinds of works would be extremely limited. Remember, weíre still trying to raise the rest of the money to build the new museum in Cambridge. There are a handful of museums in this country that have major acquisition funds Ė peope like MOMA, the Met Ė but in this economic climate they would be few and far between. On the other hand, if the pictures are good, if the works of art are important, I think you can always find buyers."

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About Exhibitionist Geoff Edgers covers arts news for The Boston Globe..
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