Continuity at the Walters


The appointment of Gary Vikan as director provides continuity and maintains momentum at the Walters Art Gallery.

Mr. Vikan, assistant director and medieval curator, had been helping run the museum during the interregnum since former director Robert P. Bergman went to the Cleveland Museum of Art last May. He has helped to plan the ambitious improvements that, as director, he is now assigned to achieve. Mr. Vikan knows what he is getting into.

The Walters Art Gallery needs to renovate its "new" wing, which is 20 years old and not entirely suited to what it does, and reinstall much of the permanent collection. This is an estimated $6 million job that should bring it up to the standard set by the gorgeous renovation of the original Italian Renaissance palace that Henry Walters built on Charles Street in 1904.

The Walters needs to build endowment, to help insulate the museum, which is owned by the people and city of Baltimore, from the vicissitudes of a strapped municipal budget. It needs to extend outreach to its owners and demonstrate the relevance of its magnificent holdings of 5,000 years of civilization to their lives. The new technology of art education can help do that.

Based on its permanent collections, the Walters would be world-renowned if plopped down in a Paris or New York. Being in Baltimore, it is world renowned among connoisseurs of fine art museums, and needs to become a greater part of what visitors do when they are in town, and a greater reason why they come.

Mr. Vikan needs no instruction in these matters. He is an articulate spokesman for these missions and more, as well as being the expert on Byzantine art and civilization who mounted noted exhibitions of Greek, Russian and Ethiopian religious art.

With Adena Testa succeeding Jay M. Wilson as president of the board of trustees in June, the Walters embarks on a smooth transition to new leadership with strong continuity. This is the happy ending to a bumpy, 19-month search that had settled -- temporarily as it turned out -- on the director of the Duke University Museum, Michael Mezzatesta, who would at best have represented an exciting lurch into new directions.

Mr. Vikan personifies continued progress in directions that are already well indicated. In hindsight, he has been preparing for this responsibility since coming to the Walters in 1985.


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