France Honors Maxwell L. Anderson

June 23, 2011 | By French Culture

On Thursday, June 23, 2011, Antonin Baudry, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, conferred upon museum director Maxwell L. Anderson the insignia officer and chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters with the following speech.

It’s an honour and a pleasure to pay tribute to a major museum figure, an innovative thinker in the cultural world, someone who is truly passionate about art. I am pleased this evening to extend a warm welcome to Maxwell Anderson.

Dear Maxwell Anderson,

In the time between your childhood experience in France at an elementary school in Montmorency to your recent participation as chairman of the e-G8 forum in Paris, you have consistently offered a progressive leadership to the international art community.

Throughout your impressive career, while faced with the challenges of a present-day museum director, you have, over the years, deepened the understanding of French and American cultural treasures.

If we speak from today perspective, looking at your current position, one might say that your passion for France and its culture dates back to your “prehistoric” years.

When you were five years old, thanks to a Fulbright Fellowship awarded to your father, you spent an academic year in Paris and Toulouse, known as “la ville rose”, a town tinted with many hues, and this sojourn, I believe, gracefully coloured your whole life.

A bit later during what one might call your classical years, you studied art history at Harvard. Focusing on the myth of Dionysus for your Ph.D., you delved into the exhibition galleries and archives of various French museums. Then your doctorate in hand, you began your career in 1981 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a curator in the Department of Greek and Roman Art; it was there that you started to forge long lasting ties with your colleagues at the Louvre.

These collaborations grew even deeper and took on a wider scope when you became Director of Emory University’s Museum in 1987. This period testifies to your commitment to experimentation and transparency, when you advanced the idea of a universal patrimony and advocated respect to the geographical and social context when collecting ancient art. An idea you developed again later with the warning against looting of museums. This clarity and humanism make you a man from Le Siècle des Lumières.

Maxwell, you may not have physically traversed the Atlantic… but you did cross the US-Canadian border to become Director of the art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 1995. There, besides overseeing a strong curatorial program, you created a permanent exchange project between French and Canadian museums, once again demonstrating your ability to build powerful bridges between two continents.

In 1998 you returned to NY and served as the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, where you remained for five years. Inventing new models to invigorate museum exchanges and collaborations, you initiated the first multinational purchase of a work of art, a Bill Viola installation that brought together the Whitney, the Centre Pompidou, and the Tate Modern in an unconventional partnership.

In 2006 you became the Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and developed an unprecedented open source technology to strengthen museum practice. “Dashboard” is a unique website, a modern tool chronicling real-time museum performance as well as documentation of documentation of de-accessioning practices.

You also presided over the inauguration of the largest exhibition of antiquities from the Louvre overseas and launched America’s largest contemporary sculpture park which now features a special program of site-specific commissions. Acknowledging these pioneering initiatives, the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the Indianapolis Museum with the National Medal in 2009. I must stress that this prestigious honour is given to museums and libraries that make extraordinary civic, educational, economic, environmental, and social contributions.

Throughout a career associated with exceptional museums, you have opened not one but several pathways to advance innovation in museum practice. Reinventing models of acquisition and scientific collaboration, you promoted exploration in art, design, and environment and sought to maximise knowledge rather than focus on attendance only.

It has been an adventure, in fact, not unlike your childhood travels in France with your parents, when you knew when to leave the Michelin guide behind and follow your instincts to find the right place for a meal. One might say that this has been the key to your career: never hesitating to change one’s path or one’s mode of doing things in order to foster appreciation of your common cultural heritage. To pursue our timeline, I believe these numerous achievements have proven you a man of our century.

Maxwell Anderson, au nom du Ministre de la Culture, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

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