Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is having a farewell bash that’s open to the public Wednesday evening for its longtime, much-loved leader Malcolm Rogers, who's retiring next month after more than 20 years at the MFA.
Rogers has worked to make the encyclopedic museum more accessible to the public with free admission "community days," and he's raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the new Art of the Americas wing.
That's where I met him to talk about his tenure, and his future plans, which are becoming more clear to him now that his final days at the MFA are drawing near.
Wednesday’s free “Cheers to Malcolm!” event invites visitors to tour some of the outgoing museum director’s favorite artworks, and staff will be dishing out free gelato with flavors named after Rogers.
“I love gelato, yes,” Rogers admitted with his unique laugh. “I don’t know which flavors we’re serving — but it’s a small but festive gesture.”
Rogers says he’s quite fond of caramel sea salt. The names his employees came up with for the frozen treat’s flavors are "Never Vanilla Malcolm," "Choco-Lot-of-Love" and "Because We Care-amel."
As for the works of art being highlighted, Rogers wants to correct a misperception.
“People always think my favorite painting here is Sargent’s ‘The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.’ In truth yes, it is a great favorite — but there are so many beautiful paintings here, so many works of art,” he said.
Some others that speak to Rogers are glass artist Dale Chihuly’s 42-foot-tall “Lime Green Icicle Tower” in the courtyard and “Garrowby Hill” outside the contemporary art gallery. In that piece David Hockney captures the landscape of Rogers’ childhood home in England.
Sitting in front of “Watson and the Shark,” by John Singleton Copley, Rogers reflects on the gallery where the masterwork hangs. It's inside the $504 million Art of the Americas Wing that opened in late 2010. The retiring 66-year-old director modestly agrees that the wing has been his biggest project at the museum.
“I feel proud — but I like to look forward rather than back,” he mused. “And I don’t think of this so much as a retirement, but moving to a new phase of my life which I hope will be long and fruitful. We’ll see.”
"Our mission is to bring art and people together -- educationally, but also for just sheer delight and pleasure. And I know the MFA is going to go on doing that long after my time."Malcolm Rogers
Rogers says it’s difficult for him to imagine life after the MFA. There have been rumors that he was being courted for a director job at another museum.
“Well, a few months ago I was head-hunted for a job at a British museum ... and I considered it,” he recalled, “and I thought hard, and decided in the end I did not want another full-time museum job. We can rule that out.”
Instead Rogers says he's hoping to do some consulting work. And, and he wants to catch up on scholarship in one of his specialties — 16th and 17th century British painting.
“There are always new discoveries to be made — new insights — and I’d like to be part of that,” he said.
Rogers will spend most of his post-MFA time back in Britain, but he plans to return to Boston on a regular basis. He says his 20 years at the museum have been the most fulfilling of his life, and he has faith his successor Matthew Teitelbaum will carry his torch into the future.
“Our mission is to bring art and people together — educationally, but also for just sheer delight and pleasure,” Rogers said. “And I know the MFA is going to go on doing that long after my time.”
Rogers thanked his 800-person staff with a party at the MFA Tuesday night. He leaves his post officially at the end of July. Teitelbaum takes over as museum director in August.
The "Cheers to Malcolm" party kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday and runs through 9 p.m. Admission is free beginning at 4 p.m.