Provost Steven E. Hyman announced the appointment today of Thomas W. Lentz as Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums, effective Nov. 15. Lentz is currently director of international art museums at the Smithsonian Institution.
A 1985 graduate of Harvard’s doctoral program in fine arts, Lentz is an expert in Persian painting. He has been a distinguished curator and institutional leader at the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian. He has organized a number of significant exhibitions in the field of Asian art, including, notably, “Timur and the Princely Vision: Persian Art and Culture in the 15th Century” at LACMA.
“Tom Lentz is a museum leader of exceptional wisdom, vision, and skill,” said Hyman. “He brings to the directorship a keen intelligence, knowledge of and deep affection for Harvard’s art museums, and a profound commitment to education.”
“The Harvard Art Museums are widely admired within the museum world,” Hyman added, “for their collections, exhibitions, and role in educating some of our most important professors and curators of art. I am confident that Tom Lentz will maintain this tradition of excellence and build on it at the same time that he will creatively assay the important challenges that face the art museums.”
Said Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers, “The Harvard Art Museums are an extraordinary resource, not only for students and scholars but for the larger community and wider world. We’re delighted and honored that Tom has decided to return to Harvard to serve as director of this remarkable institution.”
“I am both honored and excited by this opportunity,” Lentz said. “They are an extraordinary group of museums, with powerful collections, a truly talented staff, and a rich legacy of research and scholarship. The educational mission for the visual arts is more important than ever today. My goal is to ensure that Harvard’s art museums not only remain vital to the University, the community, and the field, but that they continue to play a leading role in museum thinking and practice.”
Lentz was recommended by a search advisory group comprising faculty members and curators. The search involved broad consultation with Harvard curators, faculty, and students as well as leading scholars and museum professionals from across the United States, and friends and advisers of the Harvard Art Museums.
Lentz will succeed James Cuno, who left Harvard to assume the directorship of London’s Courtauld Institute last December. Cuno served as director for 11 years, completing a capital campaign during that time and securing donations of a number of very significant collections.
Since January 2003, Marjorie B. Cohn, the Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, has served as acting director of the Art Museums. “The University is grateful to Jerry Cohn for her thoughtful, steady leadership during this time of transition,” Hyman said.
As director of the international art museums division at the Smithsonian, Lentz oversees four institutions: the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York; the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; and the National Museum of African Art. These collections comprise more than 300,000 objects. The combined annual budget of these four museums is more than $17 million, and their combined staff is nearly 320 strong. In 2002, the four institutions welcomed more than 1.5 million visitors.
During his time as director, Lentz also served as acting director of the National Museum of African Art and as acting director of the Hirshhorn while he searched for permanent directors of those museums.
During his time at Harvard, he was actively involved in museum work, co-curating four exhibitions at the Fogg. Upon graduation, he accepted a position as curator of Asian art at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Lentz organized 10 exhibitions at RISD on such diverse subjects as Chinese bronzes, Indian textiles, and Japanese Kabuki theater.
Lentz moved from RISD to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art , one of the 15 largest museums in the United States. He spent eight years at LACMA, first as assistant curator, then as curator and head of the Department of Ancient and Islamic Art.
Lentz returned to the East Coast in 1992 to assume a position at the Smithsonian, where he has remained since. Initially assistant director for research and collections at the Freer and Sackler galleries – the Smithsonian’s Asian art museum – Lentz rose to the position of deputy director before being appointed director of the Smithsonian’s international art museums division in 2000.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Claremont Men’s College and holds two master’s degrees, one in Islamic art from Harvard and a second in Near Eastern studies from Berkeley.
A native Californian, Lentz is married to Mary Pfeifer Lentz, a museum professional. They currently live in Washington, D.C.