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final brief words on the bmfa-vegas flap

Post #247 • March 31, 2004, 8:09 AM

Civilization runs on a combination of ideals and practicals, and needs both. The currency of the practical world is cash. The currency of the ideal world is philosophy, in its etymological sense: the love of wisdom.

Boston MFA director Malcolm Rogers has sharp instincts for the practical world. A recent Monet show at the Las Vegas Bellagio netted the museum a million dollars or so. In February he announced that the Museum is planning an underground, 10,000-square-foot, $180 million expansion.

He lacks instincts for the philisophical world, however. He dismissed critics of the Bellagio show as priggish, and said about the expansion that "We've always been looking for a way of getting more bang for our buck."

The strongest leaders advance practical and ideal agendas at the same time and use one to reinforce the other. If Rogers has failed anywhere, he has failed here. The museum is a business, but it must carry forward the ideals of the world in the form of art. Rogers has not articulated why the Bellagio Monet show and the expansion are philosophically compelling, only why they are practically compelling. His critics detect the poverty of his ideals in the midst of his business prowess, and attack it. His defenders point out that he has done nothing wrong, and indeed he hasn't. But until he evinces something akin to the $180 million expansion of his philosophy, his critics, prigs or not, have a fair target.

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