Between the Lines: September-October 2005

October 1, 2005

A fall 1969 issue of the Duke Alumni Register, the predecessor to Duke Magazine, asked, "Can Duke University Put Down the Legend?" The headline referred to the opening of a new "Art Center"--later the Duke University Museum of Art--on East Campus. Douglas Knight, Duke's president, told the publication, "What has worried me about the arts at Duke is that for so long, somehow, the legend has been established that no one cared about the arts. I hope the legend is dying.... We care very deeply."

The story earnestly tried to put to rest the notion of institutional indifference to art. It pointed out that "the center is not simply the old Science Building renovated"; it even noted the museum had some flexibility in its interior space, with movable partitions and controlled lighting. "Nevertheless, there was some controversy surrounding the location of the Art Center, and not everyone is exhilarated over the fact that it is located on East Campus in a renovated building."

Over the decades, anyone looking at the renovated Science Building--or trying to engage seriously with art on display there--might have had cause to validate the supposed legend. Now, Duke is on the verge of opening its first freestanding museum, the Nasher Museum of Art.

In this issue, we introduce the Nasher's director, Kimerly Rorschach. We accompany Rorschach, who hopes to see the Nasher focus on modern and contemporary art, on a walk through the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For that undertaking, MoMA officials allowed us the privilege of sampling its collection on a day that it was closed to the public. It was luxurious to linger over a Picasso canvas, admire the vibrancy of a Matisse composition, or walk around a Brancusi sculpture--in what was, for a time, our private museum. The encounter served as a reminder of how essential art is to our sense of history, our sense of what it means to be living in the modern age, and our sense of ourselves.