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Bowers Defends Itself

March 26, 1994

Most of us here at the Bowers Museum are hardened to the unbroken string of excoriating reviews of our exhibitors by Times critic Cathy Curtis. We are accustomed to our work being called "ignorant, pedantic, absurd" and worse. But her most recent review of our exhibition "Seven Decades: Modern Mexican Art From the Bernard Lewin Collection" ("Selling Out at the Bowers," March 1) is so incorrect and mean-spirited as to be pernicious, and we must tender a reply.

The review is incorrect in its implication that it is somehow strange and disreputable to mount a show of works that are for sale. On the contrary, every great institution accepts exhibit items that can be purchased from their owners. Museums would be very hard pressed to obtain works of art from purely non-commercial sources. In fact, many museum loan agreements include commission arrangements should a work sell as a result of being shown in a particular exhibition. The collector, Mr. Lewin, quite publicly offered us such an arrangement. The Bowers declined, not because we think the sale of art is venal, but because we are not in that business.

It also is incorrect to denigrate the Lewin collection. A respected journal, Latin American Art, said "Bernard Lewin owns the largest and most important private collection of Mexican art in the world" (fall 1990).

Cathy's incessant vitriol complicates the already daunting task of raising enough private support to mount any sort of exhibition whatsoever. Fortunately, our "Seven Decades" show has attracted people of very different backgrounds and circumstance. It has instilled wonder and pride. Now really, isn't this more important than carping about why the collector loaned the artworks?

Lest there be any doubt that "Seven Decades" provides the viewer with more than his/her money's worth, here's a risk-free offer: We invite your readers to come to the Bowers on our upcoming free admission day (Sunday, April 24), made possible by the generosity of Wells Fargo Bank.

PETER KELLER

Santa Ana

Peter Keller is executive director of the Bowers Museum.

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