Video: Interview with Gary Vikan and Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director

51PNeB9cR9LSacred and Stolen is the memoir of an art museum director with the courage to reveal what goes on behind the scenes. It lays bare the messy part of museums: looted antiquities, crooked dealers, deluded collectors, duplicitous public officials, fakes, inside thefts, bribery, and failed exhibitions. These back stories, at once shocking and comical, reveal a man with a taste for adventure, an eagerness to fan the flames of excitement, and comfort with the chaos that often ensued.

This is also the story of a Minnesota kid who started out as a printer’s devil in his father’s small-town newspaper and ended up as the director of a the Walters, a gem of an art museum in Baltimore. Of his quest to bring the “holy” into the museum experience, and of his struggle, along the way, to reconcile his passion for acquiring and displaying sacred works of art with his suspicion that they were stolen.

Among the cast of characters are the elegant French oil heiress Dominique de Menil, the notorious Turkish smuggler, Aydin Dikmen, and his slippery Dutch dealer, Michel van Rijn, the inscrutable and implacable Patriarchs of Ethiopia and Georgia, and the charismatic President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze. And the mysterious “Mr. R. Egrette,” a museum insider who in 1951 stole a tiny Renoir as a present for his girlfriend, that finally turned up and was returned 60 years later.

Meet the Author

GARY VIKAN was Director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore from 1994 to 2013; from 1985 to 1994, he was the museum’s Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Medieval Art. Before coming to Baltimore, Vikan was Senior Associate at Harvard’s Center for Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. A native of Minnesota, he received his BA from Carleton College and his PhD from Princeton University.

An internationally known medieval scholar, Vikan curated a number of critically-acclaimed exhibitions at the Walters; led the contextual installation of the museum’s collections; eliminated its general admission fee and provided open access to all of its digital assets; and led efforts to endow nearly two dozen museum positions. Vikan has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Carleton College, Goucher College, and at the Salzburg Global Seminar. From 2006 to 2011 Vikan had a weekly radio program on Baltimore’s NPR affiliate called “Postcards from the Walters.”

Vikan has served on numerous boards internationally and in the Baltimore region. He was appointed by President Clinton in 1999 to his Cultural Property Advisory Committee and was knighted by the French Minister of Culture in the Order of Arts and Letters in 2002. Vikan received Carleton College’s Distinguished Achievement award in 2008; he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010.

Vikan stepped down from the Walters directorship to write, lecture, and teach; to provide consulting services as Vikan Consulting LLC to cultural non-profits, collectors, and dealers; and to pursue projects at the intersection of the arts and sciences.

Vikan’s recent books include Early Byzantine Pilgrimage Art (2011); Postcards from the Walters (2012); From the Holy Land to Graceland: Sacred People, Places, and Things in Our Lives (2013). Vikan lectures extensively on topics as varied as the Face of Christ, Elvis Presley, the Shroud of Turin, looted art and cultural property policy, neuroaesthetics, and art forgeries.

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