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Who will replace Walters' outgoing director?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After Bergman, who?

As Walters Art Gallery director Robert P. Bergman prepares to leave for his new post at the Cleveland Museum, a search committee has been interviewing candidates to succeed him.

In accordance with museum custom, the Walters' search committee will not talk about the selection process. Jay M. Wilson, president of the board of directors and member of the committee, said, "The search process must be strictly confidential, and I really can't tell you anything about it." Asked when a decision might be made, he said only, "The objective is to have someone selected before Bob's departure in June, but one never knows." In conversations with knowledgeable sources who asked to be anonymous, however, a number of names have surfaced as possible candidates:

* Maxwell Anderson, 37, director of Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, scholar of ancient art and former assistant curator of Greek and Roman art at New York's Metropolitan Museum. Reached at Emory, Mr. Anderson said, "We've had some very pleasant discussions" on the subject of the directorship, and "I assume I am" a current candidate.

* Jay Levenson, 44, lawyer and guest curator at Washington's National Gallery who organized, among other shows, the gallery's massive 1991 blockbuster "Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration." Mr. Levenson did not return calls.

* Glenn Lowry, 38, director of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, native of the United States and Islamic scholar who was former curator of Near Eastern art at the Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington. Mr. Lowry said he had had "some conversations with individuals about the possibilities" but was not a candidate.

* Peter Sutton, 43, curator of European paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and scholar of northern Renaissance painting. Mr. Sutton said he was not and had never officially been a candidate, though he had talked to a Walters curator about the job.

* Paul Tucker, 42, professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and an expert on Monet who organized the highly praised 1990 exhibit "Monet in the '90s: The Series Paintings" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Mr. Tucker declined to say whether he is a current candidate, though he said "there have been conversations" about the position.

Women candidates

Sources also mentioned two women candidates, one from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif., and one from the Asia Society in New York, but did not know names or positions. There may, of course, be other candidates, one of whom could be the ultimate choice.

A look at each of the aforementioned possibilities, candidate or no, indicates some of the things the Walters might be looking for in a new director. Mr. Sutton, for instance, is a Renaissance curator whose interests would have fit in well with the Walters' collections, and he would have brought a fresh perspective to the job. The last two directors, Mr. Bergman and Richard H. Randall Jr., have been medievalists.

How important is the director's scholarly perspective when museum directors must give most of their time to administration and fund-raising, and have little left over for active curatorial or scholarly work? Presumably the director's interests have some effect on collecting and exhibition activities, and aside from that Mr. Wilson contends that the Walters director can still function in a scholarly way.

"We did provide for Bob a sabbatical year to refresh his intellectual faculties, write articles and actually work on an exhibition, 'Splendor of the Popes' [1989]." And, Mr. Wilson adds, the Walters now has a deputy director in charge of development, which relieves the director of some of the fund-raising duties.

When the Walters hired Mr. Bergman in 1981, it got an art historian from a university (Harvard) rather than a museum person with a curatorial background. It has been pointed out that an academic, such as Mr. Bergman, tends to be more theory-oriented, while a curator, such as his predecessor Mr. Randall, tends to be more object-oriented. Four of the five named as possibilities have been museum curators, and the fifth has curated a major show. Does that indicate that the search committee feels it's time for a curator-type again? Mr. Wilson says not necessarily.

The credentials

"What we are looking for is someone who has the professional credentials -- I mean the relevant education, training and experience, but who demonstrates, in the interview process, leadership talent and vision. We are not limited by any such conceptual ideas."

As a university professor who has curated a major and highly successful exhibit, Mr. Tucker would bridge the academic-curatorial gap; but his specialty does not seem ideally compatible with the gallery's collections. Although the Walters has a small impressionist collection that includes two Monets, virtually all its holdings are in earlier art. On the other hand, there has been some thought given in recent years to the possibility of collecting either 20th-century art or African and African-American art, in an effort to broaden the gallery's appeal to the public. Perhaps someone such as Mr. Tucker, whose field is not associated with the Walters' major holdings, would be able to attract donors of art that is not associated with the Walters' major holdings.

Non-museum background

Like Mr. Tucker, Mr. Levenson comes from a non-museum background, and originally he wasn't even in the art field. He began as a Wall Street mergers and acquisitions lawyer, but a deep interest in art led him into curating, and he was responsible for two shows at the National Gallery before "Circa 1492."

Although that show was not unanimously praised -- a number of critics thought it sprawling and confusing -- it was a monumental feat to pull together its 600 objects from more than 200 collections in 34 countries. That suggests that as director Mr. Levenson might be interested in the Walters originating large traveling loan shows -- something, it has been suggested, that the gallery should do more of in the future.

But that kind of show is not only expensive, it also requires enormous effort. To do much of it would probably require enlarging the curatorial staff, and Mr. Wilson doesn't hesitate to say, "We have no plans in that regard."

Of the two present museum directors among the named possibilities, Glenn Lowry has seen to completion a major addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and has struggled with financial problems since going to the Toronto museum in 1990. Previously at the Freer and Sackler galleries of Asian art in Washington, where he was curator of Near Eastern art, his exhibition "Timur [Tamerlane] the Great and the Princely Vision" was praised for making a difficult subject accessible to a wide audience, a quality that would make him attractive to the Walters.

"We have to strike a balance between scholarly excellence of exhibitions and other curatorial activities and the potential popularity of those activities," Mr. Wilson says. "The role of the director is a bit of a high wire act in attempting to satisfy those concurrent demands on [the gallery's] activities."

What makes it particularly unlikely that Mr. Lowry could be persuaded to leave Toronto at this point is that he has been there such a short time -- less than 2 1/2 years.

That leaves Maxwell Anderson -- and it leaves a lot, apparently. He has been described as "someone who is obviously going to be a star in the museum world." Upon his arrival at Emory in 1987 he almost immediately announced an imaginative program whereby Rome's National Museum and other museums agreed to periodic loans of antiquities in exchange for Emory's agreement to pay for research and restoration and Mr. Anderson's agreement to co-author catalogs on the material. That suggests he would be a creative director for a museum such as the Walters, which doesn't have an unlimited exhibitions budget.

He has had successes in other areas, too. Last year, Emory announced the gift of the 1,300-object collection of pre-Columbian art by collectors William and Carol Thibadeau, making the Carlos one of the top four American museums in its holdings of Costa Rican art.

And Mr. Anderson, the grandson and namesake of the late playwright, presided over the building of a Michael-Graves-designed addition to the museum, which triples it in size. It is scheduled to open in May, making this an appropriate time for the director to make a move.

Mr. Anderson's area of expertise is suited to the Walters, which has a major collection of ancient art. And he would be coming at a time when the gallery plans a renovation and reinstallation of two floors of its 1974 building, those devoted to ancient and medieval art.

Belt-tightening

Whoever the gallery picks probably won't have the high-visibility projects of his two predecessors, Mr. Randall's addition of the 1974 building and Mr. Bergman's renovation of the original 1904 building and addition of Hackerman House as the gallery's museum of Asian art.

Instead, the new director will have to deal with a period of economic belt-tightening that's affecting virtually all museums, along with such relatively dry subjects as technological advances and increased use of computers in museum education.

As one observer says, "Things will be less glamorous now but no less important."

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