Sunday, 7 September 2014

Happy Malcolm Rogers Day, Boston!

Picture: MFA Boston via Tyler Green
Malcolm Rogers, director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, is retiring after twenty years and the mayor has announced that today is Malcolm Rogers Day. The lovefest is doubly inappropriate. 

It's inappropriate for a museum to idolise its own employees. The MFA has been more excited about its boss than its artwork, tweeting with gushing enthusiasm. But the staff ought properly to be behind the scenes. Promote the collection, promote the exhibitions. But puffing up your own staff stinks.

But it's also inappropriate because Malcolm Rogers is one of the worst and most damaging museum directors in recent history. He has done immense harm to the MFA and set worrying precedents for other museums. He has been at the forefront of 'monetising' art collections. That means he rents out Boston's greatest masterpieces to for-profit companies to turn a quick buck. Appalling risks are taken shipping large canvases around the world on a regular basis to be shown in expensive exhibitions with no scholarly justification. Dance at Bougival by Renoir has been on loan for a third of the past four years, reports the Boston Globe.   

The Globe's report is damning. At one point, all of the MFA's C├ęzannes, five of its six Manets, both of its Van Gogh portraits plus pictures by Renoir, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Degas and Picasso were being rented out at the same time. Ten of their 37 Monets have been rented out for more than three years between 2006 and 2013 and most of the others have been on extended loan. And one of their greatest pictures, Gauguin's huge masterpiece Where do we come from, who are we, where are we going, which had been considered too fragile to travel, has now been to four different venues for fourteen months.* Nothing is sacred. 

Malcolm Rogers himself got to pose with the dancing girls (above) when he rented the highlights of Boston's impressionist pictures to Bellagio. He is reveling in his role as cultural diplomat and curatorial entrepreneur. But while they paintings were in Vegas, the power failed for three and a half days in the blazing desert heat, reports Tyler Green. Moving pictures is always risky, but the risks are even greater when renting out to profit-making companies with an obvious incentive to cut costs and take risks. 

While depriving Boston of its best pictures, Rogers has promoted shallow populist exhibitions of fast cars, fashion and jewelry that have no place in a serious museum, however entertaining they may be. Three trustees have resigned, one explicitly citing concerns about Rogers' art rental business. Today we should be thankful for his over-due departure, not celebrating his disastrous tenure. 

Happy Malcolm Rogers day, folks.

*Updated: I'm reliably informed that the Gauguin is relatively stable and that several of the loans of that picture were to serious exhibitions rather than rentals. However, I would still be cautious of ever lending a picture so crucial to the institution, and I'd consider any large canvas to be especially vulnerable to travel.


  1. Of course: good riddance! The departure of this overplayed guy is good occasion to look and assess what happened to American museums in the last 30 or so years. They mongrelized, devolved from temples for solemn and proud displays of our culture to barrels of fun for children of all ages. Section showing XX century has been painted by Ronald McDonald .This is decidedly not our culture: the IQ is too low.

    1. The sad thing is that everyone wants to hire a Malcolm Rogers at the moment. And they all want to show Ronald McDonalds alongside Raphaels.

  2. Hi,

    I am a member of the museum and suffered through its egregious art school.

    That said- I noticed that my faves were missing every time I had been there recently- specifically the ones you mentioned.

    However I did hear Mr Rogers on NPR and found out that the Museum a treasure of Boston, gets not one dime from the state or city. That is the

    When he was asked what his favorite works were he mentioned Frey Hortensio by El Greco ( my fave) and the Darley- Boit? chidren by Singer Sargent ( the girls in the white dresses) plus the fabulous collection of Stuarts and other America 18th century painting. Not one mot about the contemporary stuff every museum is forced to show , regardless of quality.

    Nobody wants to support anything really fine.

    1. All true, though at least he has taste. The El Greco and Sargent are among my favourites in Boston too! The Stuarts less so.

  3. A relative of mine who has been a member of the MFA since 1984 is, shall I say, VERY unforgiving in her thoughts on Rodgers:

    "I just read the blog and I agree with Michael Savage 110%. I detest Rogers and have since his arrival -- when as his first move he fired a lot of curators for no better reason than wanting to replace them with his lickspittles. His whole motivating force was that he was ripped that he wasn't appointed head of the British Museum, so he took the Boston job and conducted it in a way that he thought would show the BM how stupid it was not to have hired him. He is so full of ... used food ... that it's amazing he can even walk. Next weekend, as what he thinks is a special treat, he plans to stand at the Huntington Ave entrance and greet visitors. Be still my heart :( I will be elsewhere. I can hardly wait till we're rid of him."

  4. I just discovered your blog. My feeling about Rogers is "don't let the door hit you on the way out" although in fact I would like him to get a good smack from the giant pair of doors on the Huntington Ave facade.

    Do you have any perspective on his replacement? I feel he can't be worse, but of course, he can.