Katy Kline Outlines her Plans for the Museum of Art
Story posted January 21, 2000
Picture a world-class art museum, where the ancient and the modern share equal prominence; it is used by faculty and students from all disciplines; visitors can enjoy music find a comfortable place to sit and read in the galleries, and get a snack at the café.
When Katy Kline pictures that museum, it looks a lot like the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. As its director, Kline believes the Bowdoin museum is poised to be nothing less than that, pending the completion of an expansion and renovation next year. Speaking at a recent Business Breakfast on campus, Kline outlined whet she sees as the museum’s strengths, and how it can be improved over the next few years.
Kline said she is endlessly excited by the world of art, even as "virtual" art is becoming ubiquitous on the Web. She sees that technological development as a tool, an advertisement for experiencing the real thing, for which there is no substitute.
Art at a college is even more exciting because of the mix of faculty and students and the possibilities they create.
"You have the ability to take risks that the supertanker museums can afford to take," she said.
And Bowdoin’s museum is one of the most exciting of its kind.
"If it didn’t exist already, we couldn’t invent it," she said. "The Walker Art Building is gracious and elegant, and has a presence and authority on campus. The collections are extraordinary."
Bowdoin’s collection of ancient art rivals those at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, she said.
And there’s an extensive collection of American Federal and Colonial portraiture, including works by Robert Feek, considered the first American painter unaffiliated with the European tradition.
"A scholar from the Midwest, who had gone through the trouble of coming here, burst into tears when she saw that we had five Feeks at this small college in Brunswick, Maine," Kline said.
The collection is so strong that Dartmouth College, Williams College and the National Gallery have asked to borrow some of the works when the museum closes for renovation in June 2001.
As exciting as the collection itself is the way it is being used. Bowdoin has endowed a position for a Mellon Foundation intern, whose job is to work with faculty from all
disciplines on ways to use the museum in the their courses.
An advanced seminar in international relations and conflict resolution, for example, used a bronze sculpture, which was scandalous when it was first commissioned for Radio City Music Hall, as a stepping stone into a discussion on obscenity and public funding of the arts. Students from biology, coastal studies and environmental studies interpreted landscape paintings from the unique perspective of their discipline.
But the museum needs some help. Asian, African and contemporary art are underrepresented in the collection.
"We need to pursue collectors," she said. "Many works are not spoken for, and small museums are in a fortunate position to pursue these works. We can assure the donor that the works will be used regularly, which a larger institution cannot do."
"We could be the most important, lively and inventive art museum in the country," she said.
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