Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director (Hardcover)

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Sacred and Stolen is the memoir of an art museum director with the courage to reveal what goes on behind the scenes. It lays bare the messy part of museums: looted antiquities, crooked dealers, deluded collectors, duplicitous public officials, fakes, inside thefts, bribery, and failed exhibitions. These back stories, at once shocking and comical, reveal a man with a taste for adventure, an eagerness to fan the flames of excitement, and comfort with the chaos that often ensued.

This is also the story of a Minnesota kid who started out as a printer’s devil in his father’s small-town newspaper and ended up as the director of a the Walters, a gem of an art museum in Baltimore. Of his quest to bring the “holy” into the museum experience, and of his struggle, along the way, to reconcile his passion for acquiring and displaying sacred works of art with his suspicion that they were stolen.

Among the cast of characters are the elegant French oil heiress Dominique de Menil, the notorious Turkish smuggler, Aydin Dikmen, and his slippery Dutch dealer, Michel van Rijn, the inscrutable and implacable Patriarchs of Ethiopia and Georgia, and the charismatic President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze. And the mysterious “Mr. R. Egrette,” a museum insider who in 1951 stole a tiny Renoir as a present for his girlfriend, that finally turned up and was returned 60 years later.

About the Author

Gary Vikan was Director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore from 1994 to 2013; from 1985 to 1994, he was the museum’s Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Medieval Art. Before coming to Baltimore, Vikan was Senior Associate at Harvard’s Center for Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. A native of Minnesota, he received his BA from Carleton College and his PhD from Princeton University.

An internationally known medieval scholar, Vikan curated a number of critically-acclaimed exhibitions at the Walters; led the contextual installation of the museum’s collections; eliminated its general admission fee and provided open access to all of its digital assets; and led efforts to endow nearly two dozen museum positions. Vikan has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Carleton College, Goucher College, and at the Salzburg Global Seminar. From 2006 to 2011 Vikan had a weekly radio program on Baltimore’s NPR affiliate called “Postcards from the Walters.”

Vikan has served on numerous boards internationally and in the Baltimore region. He was appointed by President Clinton in 1999 to his Cultural Property Advisory Committee and was knighted by the French Minister of Culture in the Order of Arts and Letters in 2002. Vikan received Carleton College’s Distinguished Achievement award in 2008; he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010.

Vikan stepped down from the Walters directorship to write, lecture, and teach; to provide consulting services as Vikan Consulting LLC to cultural non-profits, collectors, and dealers; and to pursue projects at the intersection of the arts and sciences.

Vikan’s recent books include Early Byzantine Pilgrimage Art (2011); Postcards from the Walters (2012); From the Holy Land to Graceland: Sacred People, Places, and Things in Our Lives (2013). Vikan lectures extensively on topics as varied as the Face of Christ, Elvis Presley, the Shroud of Turin, looted art and cultural property policy, neuroaesthetics, and art forgeries.

Praise For…

"Not since Thomas Hoving made the mummies dance has there been such a lively and engaging look at the inner workings of a major museum. Based on Gary Vikan’s decades-long tenure at the helm of the Walters Art Museum, this book brings his exceptional flair for scholarship and pop culture, which has seen Graceland described as a contemporary Byzantium, to showing how to make a great collection come alive. Having played a minor role in some of Vikan’s adventures, I know at first hand that the work of a museum director is often more Raiders of the Lost Ark than Father Knows Best. Vikan’s autobiographical account is a welcome addition to the often bone-dry literature about modern museums." — James Bradbourne, Director, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

"The world of museums, art collectors, and trade in cultural heritage ranges from murky to opaque, though it is always intriguing. Gary Vikan’s wonderful, insightful memoir lifts the curtain and provides an invaluable, honest, and engaging glimpse behind the scenes of the museum world. A must-read for anyone interested in museums, curating, and collecting." — Dr. Noah Charney, best-selling author of The Art of Forgery

"Great read!! Fun! One-upping fictional art whodunits, Gary Vikan shares a variety of nerve-racking real life experiences to provide new insights into the world of art museum directors. Lurking behind all that Technicolor museum glamour are many shades of gray, a fascinating cast of characters, and lots of intrigue." — Tom Freudenheim, former Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Worcester Art Museum; former Assistant Secretary for Museums, Smithsonian Institution

"In his fascinating memoir, Sacred and Stolen, Gary Vikan invites us into the mind of a leading American museum director as he wrestles with the issue of our day: whether or not to buy art that, by all indications, was looted. Vikan navigates the issue with humor, aplomb, and a common sense that is both reassuring and, at times, treacherous. You may not always agree with his decisions, but you’ll find him an able guide to one of the most confounding and controversial issues facing the art world today. Rarely have we had such a candid window into the thinking that guides America’s biggest cultural institutions." — Jason Felch, co-author of Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities in the World’s Richest Museum

"As a writer Gary Vikan has three virtues hardly ever found together. He genuinely loves art and is extraordinarily erudite on the subject; he cares about what’s right and wrong; and he is wonderfully alive to the human capacity for absurd behavior. Gary’s scholarship and professional ethics, combined with his impish sense of humor, make for delightful reading." — Dan Hofstadter, author of Goldberg’s Angel: An Adventure in the Antiquities Trade

Product Details
ISBN: 9781590793930
ISBN-10: 1590793935
Publisher: SelectBooks
Publication Date: September 20th, 2016
Pages: 256
Language: English