Art Museum Director To Leave Harvard for London

The director of Harvard’s art museums announced earlier this month that he will be the latest in a series of high-profile departures from the University.

University Art Museums Director James Cuno will leave Harvard next January to assume a new position at the University of London.

Cuno will lead the Courtald Institute of Art in England, which will soon become an independent college within the University of London system.

The move, announced earlier this month, comes at a critical point for Harvard’s museums, as the University seeks to find a location for a new modern art museum. The plans to build the museum in the Riverside neighborhood of Cambridge have thus far been blocked by residents who oppose the construction.

Some have also speculated that Cuno’s departure from one of the wealthiest university museum systems in the world may have been due to displeasure with University President Lawrence H. Summers.


A story in the Boston Globe quoted an anonymous colleague of Cuno’s who called the departure to the Courtald “very much a sideways move.”

But Cuno said the move was not due to frustration with University administration, saying the job carried only that difficulty which “comes naturally when working as one part of a very large institution with multiple and competing agendas.”

Under former University president Neil L. Rudenstine—whose wife was an art historian—the position of University Art Museums Director reported directly to the president. Summers has changed the post so that Cuno reports to Provost Steven E. Hyman.

But Cuno said that this had not been a problem for the museums.

“I’ve only found support from both the president and provost,” he said. “The fact that I’m reporting to the provost instead of president is not a sign of disinterest.”

He said his move was instead influenced by both “professional and personal” factors.

Cuno said his youngest child entering college in the fall provided an opportunity for a big move.

“Here’s a chance for my wife and me to reinvent ourselves and to do so in London, one of the most exciting cities in the world,” Cuno said.

Cuno called his new position at the Courtald “an opportunity to have a role to play in the development of this cultural center in the heart of London.”

The Courtald holds a pre-eminent spot in the British art world, though its collection is substantially smaller than Harvard’s.

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