Frederic Edwin Church, “Scene on the Magdalene,” 1854
- He thinks Renzo Piano is swell but wants to be careful with the new addition to the Kimbell. He loves architect Louis Kahn’s work (“Louis Kahn did so much to shape my views of architecture and I think that’s something that I bring to the table, especially with the expansion”).
- He’s experienced with expansions (“I was able to build a new museum building [a 34,000-square-foot wing designed by Hugh Newell Jacobson for the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum, which Lee directed]. The collections grew tremendously, primarily through gifts [most notably, the Weitzenhoffer bequest of French Impressionists], rather than through actually buying them. The museum at the University of Oklahoma has among the strongest collections of any public university-based museum”).
- And he hopes to keep up the excellent standards set at the Kimbell but still reach out to the general public, which is kind of have-it-both-ways boilerplate for art museum directors: “I want to maintain the Kimbell’s reputation for stellar, important exhibitions. I do want to reach out to a broad, general public. At the same time it’s important to balance those exhibitions with exhibitions that make a contribution to scholarship.”
But here’s something new. Lee talks about “deaccessioning,” the frowned-upon practice of a museum selling off artworks to cover ordinary expenses. In particular, a Taft Museum exhibition, while Lee was there, featured two Hudson River School paintings that the National Academy later sold (including the Church, above):
I was heartbroken to hear they had been sold. I believe that art is the reason why a museum exists and should not be capitalized. A museum has operating expenses in order to serve the mission of caring for the art and presenting that art to the public. For a museum to sell major works from its collection in order to fund operations is counterintuitive.
I’m bothered by the precedent that the National Academy has set and I believe that the strong stance taken by AAMD [Association of Art Museum Directors] was important to send a message to other museums that might be tempted to sell works in order to fund their operating budgets, especially in these difficult times. I think AAMD’s stance helped to lessen the potential impact of the precedent set by the National Academy.