Art Museums Mull Overhaul

Plan to consolidate collections suggested as director departs

Anticipating renovations and the selection of a new director, one of the world’s wealthiest university museums will draw up blueprints for its future in the coming months.

Harvard University Art Museums (HUAM) administrators are currently preparing proposals for significant renovations to the nearly 80-year-old Fogg Museum complex. The museum lacks up-to-date climate control and wiring and simply does not have space to display much of Harvard’s 160,000-piece collection.

The proposals for renovation, which museum administrators plan to give to the provost’s office by the end of December, include a drastic plan to consolidate the collections of three of Harvard’s museums—the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger and Sackler—in a single building.

Meanwhile, the art museums’ director, James Cuno, plans to leave Harvard at the end of December to head up a London university museum.

Under Cuno for the last decade, the art museums have found financial stability and strengthened their well-known divisions for curating and restoring art.


His departure comes after a multi-year battle with residents of Cambridge’s Riverside neighborhood over the proposed construction of a new modern art museum there—a project Harvard abandoned in July in the face of community opposition.

Now, the art museums stand at a critical juncture.

Although Cuno does not yet have a replacement, the decisions currently under consideration—from the provost’s office to the offices of HUAM administrators—will shape the University’s museums for decades to come.

The Search Begins

In the next few months, the provost’s office—along with an eight-person advisory committee whose membership is still being finalized—will lead the search for a replacement for Cuno.

The provost’s office has already compiled a list of about 80 potential candidates from both within and outside Harvard.

“The fact that there are 80 names simply means that we have received a very large number of suggestions,” Provost Steven E. Hyman writes in an e-mail. “In fact the realistic number of candidates is much smaller.”

The search committee plans to present University President Lawrence H. Summers with a short list of names sometime in the spring, according to Hyman.

Cuno says a good candidate needs experience in how university museums operate, so that they are “comfortable working in the culture of the University.”

An internationally respected art historian—and the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors—Cuno doubled HUAM’s staff and budget since becoming the director in 1991.

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