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Letters

Cambridge 02138

Fat, testing, the Center for International Development

November-December 2002

ART MUSEUMS IN A NEW WORLD

As aformer student in Harvard's fine arts department and now a professorof art history, I eagerly read Janet Tassel's "Reverence for the Object"(September-October, page 48) on the program and its influence ongenerations of art museum directors. I was very disappointed thatcritical interventions into the discipline of art history are dealt within such an ignorant and fatuous way.

Theseinterventions—spearheaded by scholars such as T.J. Clark and NormanBryson (who is dismissed as having studied, horrors!, literature andlinguistics, rather than art history), not to mention women scholarssuch as Harvard's Irene Winter and other luminaries (Linda Nochlin comesto mind)—have transformed the field and, in most cases museumsthemselves. The current Museum of Modern Art, with its focus (as theMetropolitan Museum's Philippe de Montebello, in his inimitablehomophobic and misogynistic way, puts it) on "AIDS, sex, AIDS,feminism, AIDS, homosexuality, AIDS and patriarchy," is thusconsidered a far more important institution for the display of art since1800 among younger generations of artists, art historians, and artcritics than the hidebound Metropolitan.

The fact that all of themuseum directors discussed in the article (with the sole exception ofAnne d'Harnoncourt) are white men is testament precisely to whoseinterests are served by the models of connoisseurship established byPaul Sachs in the early twentieth century. While Sachs was a pioneer inhis time, these models no longer have relevance to the far more diverseworld of global culture confronting museums today. Connoisseurship isnot the only model the fine arts department has taught over the years.Unfortunately, it was the dominant one when I was there, but thankheavens its authority has been sufficiently undermined that evenHarvard's own scholars are challenging the status quo.

Amelia Jones '83
Professor, University of California, Riverside
Riverside, Calif.

 

Editor's note: The quoteattributed to de Montebello is actually from Heather MacDonald (see page55 of the article).

 

Tassel'sexcellent article might be a book, the subject is so large. Shediscusses most of the dilemmas facing museology. But it is not possibleto find a unitary job description for the museum among them because"art" (however indefinable) has changed. Museums are used totreasuring what is best called "fine art" and theconnoisseurship that goes with it. But now "art" is different,society is different, and museums are (and must be) changing.

Art nolonger has to be permanent (Christo), or complete, or even careful, muchless "beautiful." Art may even destroy itself (Tinguely). Art was alwayspolitical and activist whether the connoisseurs realized it or not, sode Montebello should not deplore a "misplaced emphasis...on socialactivism" as if it were new.

Henry Clayman '52
Denver

 

Tassel does notmention Bernard Berenson, A.B. 1887, whose spirit, if not ghost,still pervades both collecting and fine-arts education in the Americanart world. She is right to give Harvard and Paul Sachs credit forengendering many American museum directors and curators, but the trueorigin of Harvard's prominence in this field lies with its famous sonBerenson.

Can you let us know what the two drawings are that Sachsis studying in the photograph on page 51?

Sachs

HarvardUniversity Archives

Jerome M. Garchik, J.D. '70
San Francisco

 

Editor'snote: The drawing on the easel, says Miriam Stewart, assistantcurator of drawings at the Fogg Art Museum, is Portrait ofFrédéric Villot, by Eugène Delacroix, circa1840. In 1848 Villot became curator of paintings at the Louvre. Sachsgave the drawing to the Fogg in 1949. The drawing lying on the table isa puzzlement. As to Berenson, please see "Viva I Tatti,"Tassel's comprehensive article on Berenson and I Tatti (March-April1994, page 34).

 

From mybrief quotation in Tassel's fine article, readers might think that Icare little about the consequences of archaeological looting. Thecomplete opposite is true. My yearly fieldwork in Mexico and Guatemalafocuses on the conservation and documentation of ancient Mayasculptures, often at sites that continue to be pillaged and destroyed ata horrific pace. My original statement, taken from another publicationand woefully incomplete in Tassel's article, emphasized that many lootedobjects housed in museums and private collections still possessintrinsic intellectual and cultural (not to mention aesthetic) value,even when stripped of their original archaeological contexts. Ratherthan reflecting an uncaring attitude toward looting, the study ofunprovenienced Maya texts in decipherment research aims to salvage asmuch as possible of a diminishing cultural heritage.

David Stuart
Bartlett curator of Maya hieroglyphic
inscriptions, Peabody Museum
Cambridge

 

Missingfrom Tassel's detailed article was mention of Paul Sachs's interest inAfrican and Oceanic art. In 1934 members of his famous museum coursemounted an exhibition of 56 works of Oceanic and African art at the FoggArt Museum and wrote a small accompanying catalogue. This is one of theearliest art museum exhibitions of African and Oceanic works anywhere,and among the very first to present these works as "art." Thatthe word "art" is used in the catalogue title and text isgroundbreaking for this era, the writers emphasizing not only the"aesthetic merit" of the works, but also the impact that"beliefs and prejudices inherent in our Occidental tradition"had had on our perception of these traditions in the past. The exhibitwas a precursor to the well-known exhibition of African art at theMuseum of Modern Art in New York in 1935. Two years later, in 1937, Mrs.John D. Rockefeller Jr. gave the Fogg a magnificent early Benin bronzehead. Since that time, Harvard's art museums have lagged behind othermuseums by not including works of African and Oceanic (as well aspre-Columbian/Native American art) as part of their ongoing exhibitions.Premier examples of these arts should be included. Ideas of prejudicepromoted in part through forms of visual segregation (including whoseworks get exhibited where and how) develop early and have an enduringimpact on students of all ages. Until the 1920s, ancient Greek and Romanart, Chinese art, and Egyptian art were generally all classified as"primitive art." Slowly, these and other arts have been pulledaway from this highly pejorative and illogical taxonomy. Sachs was inthe vanguard of this process.

Suzanne Preston Blier
Professor of history of art and architecture
and ofAfro-American studies
Cambridge

 

FIGHTINGFAT

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read"The Party Line on Flab"(September-October, page 16). After interviewing 909 people, researchersTaeku Lee and J. Eric Oliver seem to have concluded not only thatAmericans aren't concerned about obesity, but also that furtherstigmatization of obese people should be encouraged by the government.Somehow, the millions of dollars that Americans already spend each yearon weight-loss products, the pressure that American culture alreadyexerts on people to prize thinness, and the discrimination already facedby the obese don't count in Lee and Oliver's analysis.

Even assumingthat there is "a national reluctance to tackle obesity" by public means,the article itself inadvertently provides the explanation: "Healthexperts," it says, blame obesity on "factors like genetics, socialinequalities, and sedentary lifestyles." The survey's 909 respondentsprobably realized, unlike Lee and Oliver, that government can't doanything about the first factor and has had the second and third factorson its agenda for decades. Lee and Oliver would also do well tore-examine their apparent assumptions that obesity is equivalent to illhealth and that someone knows how to make people thin. For example, someresearch shows that, while obesity may aggravate pre-existing conditionssuch as heart disease and diabetes, it does not cause such conditions;Americans' life expectancy has increased during the same period thatthey have been gaining weight; and, as the New York Times magazinerecently noted, it may be the government itself that has caused theobesity "epidemic" through its promotion of high-carbohydrate diets.

I think the 909 respondents were absolutely right to show "littleenthusiasm for fat-fighting policies."

John Paschetto,J.D. '98
Kennett Square, Pa.

BUILDING THE SCIENCE CENTER

On page 74 of theSeptember-October issue, the Science Center is reported to have cost$12.5 million, and on page 88K it cost $19 million. Why thediscrepancy?

Michael Sherman '72
Cambridge

 

Editor's note: Further investigation, by Jeffrey Cushman'69, project manager for the current $24-million enlargement andreconfiguration of the Science Center, confirms $19 million as theproject cost of the original construction. "The $12.5 millionfigure," he says, "is the sum of two 'anonymous' giftsreceived in 1965 and 1966" toward the construction.

 

THE MERITS OF TESTING

Richard Elmore's polemicagainst test-based accountability ("TestingTrap," September-October, page 35) fails to acknowledge themany positive aspects of standardized assessment, such as those clearlyevident in the recent summary of PISA 2000, a survey by the Organisationfor Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of 265,000 15-year-oldsacross 32 countries, which "assessed their preparedness for adultlife." This measurement of literacy in reading, mathematics, andscience has already overturned a number of "truths" similar tothose that Elmore upholds. Several wealthy countries such as the UnitedStates, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany showed surprisingly mediocreresults, whereas relatively poorer Finland and Korea, as well as Canadaand Japan, were top performers. It is clear that public policy canpromote equitable learning. In Canada, Finland, and Korea,socioeconomically disadvantaged students nevertheless outperformed theOECD average. And the greatest between-school differences in studentperformance were not in the United States, but rather in Belgium,Germany, and Hungary. In America, within-school differences accountedfor more variation in student performance than differences betweenschools.

The information from PISA 2000 shows that some countries andschools perform better and more equitably than others. These resultshave already led many countries to closely examine and reevaluate theireducational systems, particularly those countries long assumed to havestellar schools, such as Switzerland and Germany, which significantlyunderperformed the OECD norm. Rather than focusing on accountability,perhaps testing in the U.S. can be similarly used to understandvariations between states, districts, and schools to developbetter-informed solutions to improve the nation's schools. Emily Kim '82
Freiburg, Germany

 

There is an interesting contrast betweenthe views of Professor Elmore and those of the chief executive officerof Chicago's schools, Arne Duncan '86 ("School CEO," September-October, page 88I),on education in low-income areas. Elmore criticizes standardized testingand its concomitant "performance-based accountability" inlarge part because schools in poor areas can't compete with those whosestudents have high socioeconomic status. He does not believe students indisadvantaged neighborhoods can or should be held to the same level ofperformance as their wealthier peers. Duncan, in taking rather drasticaction with respect to underachieving schools, states that "we hadto stop perpetuating a culture of failure."

As long as theElmore views prevail and students in low-income inner-city districts arenot expected to perform as well as their wealthier peers, they will notperform as well as those peers. They should be encouraged to competewith the best and brightest, and not accept the false premise that theyare not as good as the rich kids. Perhaps Elmore is correct in sayingthat their economic condition will prevent them from achieving equalityon the tests, but their effort to do so and to prove their worth willsurely improve their education and value to society.

Clifford J. Meyer '54, LL.B. '60
Newport Beach, Calif.

 

SACHS ON THE RECORD

Yourarticle on the Center for International Development ("Developmental Troubles," September-October,page 63) was incorrect in many important respects.

In a brief periodof time, through my own efforts of creating and directing CID, and incollaboration with Dean Joseph Nye and faculty across the University,the CID had quickly become one of the leading academic centers fordevelopment studies. Far from creating financial problems, my personalefforts had mobilized several million dollars of outright donations toCID right from the start (many times the $1 million you erroneouslycite), as well as millions of dollars more every year in funded researchprojects. The overhead from those projects alone provided around$800,000 to the Kennedy School of Government last year.

Moreimportantly from the point of the University's mission, several hundredstudents from the College and graduate schools became actively involvedin CID activities, and CID was widely and rightly regarded as one of thepremier research, teaching, and policy centers on the campus.CID-affiliated undergraduates won a slew of prizes and fellowships forwork and research related to their CID activities. The master's ininternational development (MPAID) at the Kennedy School of Government(KSG), which I conceived, is regarded from near and far as a tremendoussuccess, with an enormous applicant pool of top students each year fromaround the world.

Your statement that research salaries "easilyoutpaced" revenue sources completely misrepresents the whole process ofbuilding an institute in close partnership with the Universityleadership. I was repeatedly told by Presidents Rudenstine and Summersthat the University would fund part of CID's research activities,precisely as it should. Moreover, the KSG was committed to helping CIDraise a significant endowment, a crucial point not mentioned in thearticle. CID is a part of Harvard University, not a consulting firm. Inshort, the "deficit" mentioned in the article simply did not exist sincethe University leadership had given repeated assurances that it wouldcover an agreed part of the Center's research activities and wouldcontinue to do so, especially as the KSG commitment to help raise anendowment for the Center had not yet been achieved.

While Iregretted leaving CID and Harvard, after 22 years on the faculty and 8more years as a Harvard student, I made every effort to minimize anydisruptions resulting from my departure, almost exactly contrary to whatyou imply. It was not my idea to transfer to Columbia University theexisting projects on which I was the principal investigator (PI), butrather the request of KSG administrators, who apparently felt that theprojects should move with the PI despite my willingness to run them outof Harvard for another academic year. The KSG administrators were thendismayed to learn that many donors were not interested in maintainingtheir projects at CID under those conditions. When the pipeline of grantsupport therefore began to diminish rapidly, salaries that were onceassured suddenly appeared to be "uncovered." Moreover, if the Universitydecides to hold back on its contributions to CID and instead uses CID'sinternal funds, then a "deficit" appears where none existed even a monthbefore.

I treasure Harvard and respect its leadership, and haveconfidence that Harvard will keep CID, the MPAID, and other economicdevelopment activities vibrant. I doubt that Harvard would cut backsharply on its global development work in the name of false economizing.And very happily, despite a move to a nearby campus, I continue to workactively with many close friends and colleagues at CID and HarvardUniversity more broadly in pursuit of our common interests ofsustainable development throughout the world.

JeffreyD. Sachs '76, Jf '80, Ph.D. '80
Director, Earth Institute, ColumbiaUniversity
New York City

 

Editor's note:According to the information available to this magazine, the Center forInternational Development indeed attracted several million dollars forsponsored research, but only $1.5 million in outright donations or giftsduring the period in question. The amount matters, because it appearsthat CID's financial projections were contingent upon raising asignificant endowment—at least 10 times the $1.5 million in giftincome recorded—to provide an income stream to support itsoperations. It appears that these funds were not raised. Whoever wassupposed to "help" raise those funds, failure to do so wouldbe a matter of serious concern to the director of a University academiccenter. Similarly, in ordinary Harvard usage, "overhead" meansfunding beyond direct project costs, applied to defray routine operatingexpenses incurred by any grant-receiving research center orproject—office space, utilities, photocopying, libraryusage—rather than a separate stream of revenue.

Again accordingto information available to the magazine, during CID's four-yearstart-up phase, the University agreed to defray research costs of$500,000 annually (subsequently raised to $750,000). Thereafter, CID wasexpected to become financially self-sustaining. The large deficitsreported by the magazine exceeded the agreed-upon amounts.

Themagazine's telephone calls to Professor Sachs, seeking comment duringthe reporting of the article, were not returned.

HOW VIVID STILL

Thanks to Betty Vorenberg forthe delightful and candid reminiscence "Mastering in the '70s" (September-October,page 68) of life at Dunster House. It is incredible to me how vividstill are the memories of my three years there. Betty and her husband,Jim, were terrific, as were the tutors they chose. I have especiallyfond memories of Jerome Culp, whose nimble squash game defied the lawsof physics to which his substantial size ought to have been subject. Ialso remember the erudite and witty Mike Roberts (the third from theleft in Bob Young's cartoon on page 71, not the second) and his lovelywife (lost to cancer a few years later). And Jeremy Sabloff with histales about Cozumel and the Yucatan. And roommates and friends nowscattered across the country and beyond. On my occasional trips back toCambridge, I often feel as though I can still find these wonderfulpeople on the other side of G entry, ready for a pick-up game of squashor a late night burger from "The Grill."

Joshua Brain '77, J.D. '81
Greenwich, Conn.

 

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