Between the Lines: May-June 2003

June 1, 2003

When I was growing up, art wasn't a cool-kids' passion. But over time, one develops good sense and more refined sensibilities (at least about some things). Now, my vacation destinations hinge on museum offerings--Caravaggio in Rome, Monet in New York, Sargent in Denver, Picasso and Matisse in London.

So it was easy to identify with the message of Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker's architecture critic and Duke's Mary and Jim Semans Lecturer last year. Museums, in his words, "have become the most important public buildings of our time." Like the great Gothic cathedrals, they are repositories of the past, representations of shared values, gathering points for communities, and places of enlightenment.

Modern culture often relegates the individual, as Goldberger put it, to "dealing with virtual this and cyber that," to staring at screens and communicating remotely. Museums validate "the power of the real" and promise "the experience of authenticity." We yearn to disconnect ourselves from our electronic tethers and sample the authentic public space of a museum. We yearn to abandon the digital image for the tangible aesthetic encounter.

The current Duke museum hasn't been a stellar symbol of visual-arts interest. But Goldberger offered encouraging words about the planned Nasher Museum of Art at Duke. Saying the building would join "the most serious lessons of architecture with the most serious lessons of art," he sketched its linked pavilions as "a kind of campus in the miniature, with the same issues that prevail on the big campus, including the tensions between private study and public activity."

The Nasher Museum is taking shape along Campus Drive. This issue profiles its namesake, Raymond D. Nasher '43, and outlines the vision of its architect, Rafael ViÒoly. Nasher's record in assembling a sculpture collection points to a passion for, and an educated perspective on, art. With its museum in progress, the university finally is making its own artistic statement.