Eric McCauley Lee named new director of Kimbell Art Museum

Courtesy Kimbell Art Museum, Photo by Tony Walsh.

Courtesy Kimbell Art Museum, Photo by Tony Walsh.

FORT WORTH, Texas – The Kimbell Art Museum has appointed Eric McCauley Lee-director of the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati-as its next director. Dr. Lee will become only the fourth director in the Museum’s history and will succeed Timothy Potts, who left in 2007 for the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Dr. Lee will assume his post at the Kimbell in early spring 2009.

“We are thrilled to hand over the reins of the directorship to Dr. Lee,” said Kay Fortson, who is president of the Kimbell’s Board of Directors. “An extensive search yielded many outstanding candidates, but in Dr. Lee we found the perfect fit:  an experienced museum director and accomplished art historian with the leadership qualities to guide the Kimbell in an exciting new era. I am confident that he will thrive here, bringing fresh vision and sound judgment to the Kimbell of the future.”

Brenda Cline, executive vice president for the Kimbell Art Foundation, commented, “Dr. Lee has demonstrated a commitment to the highest standards of scholarship and museum professionalism. He is a strong, experienced executive whose passion for art is contagious. He will be a welcome addition to our talented staff and a new point of pride for the Fort Worth community.”

“I am deeply honored to be chosen as the next director of the Kimbell Art Museum, an institution I have long admired and loved,” said Dr. Lee. “With its iconic building by Louis Kahn and its extraordinary collections, exhibitions, and programs, the Kimbell has a magic that places it at the forefront of American museums. It is a living, evolving institution that continues to grow through spectacular acquisitions and, now, with the addition of a new building by one of the world’s great architects, Renzo Piano. I look forward to working with the Kimbell’s board and staff in charting the course of the next chapter in the Kimbell’s distinguished history.”

A 42-year-old native of North Carolina, Dr. Lee received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees, all in art history, from Yale University. During his studies, he spent two years in London, which included a year at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Courtauld Institute of Art. While writing his doctoral dissertation on Titian’s reception in late 18th-century Britain, he worked at the Louis Kahn-designed Yale Center for British Art in New Haven.

Following Yale, he served for almost a decade as director of the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. He was recruited to Oklahoma by the university’s president and former U.S. Senator, David L. Boren, for whom he had worked at the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in Washington, D.C., between college and graduate school. 

In Oklahoma, Dr. Lee oversaw the museum during a period of tremendous growth that transformed it into one of the most remarkable university art museums in the United States.  Notable acquisitions from his tenure include the Weitzenhoffer Bequest, which was the largest and most significant collection of French Impressionism ever given to an American public university. To house the museum’s greatly expanded holdings, he led the institution through a building project for a new 34,000-square-foot wing designed by Hugh Newell Jacobsen, an architect inspired by the work of Louis Kahn. The new wing opened in 2005. 

In January 2007, Dr. Lee became the director of Cincinnati’s Taft Museum of Art.  The Taft’s collection was formed in the early decades of the twentieth century by Anna Sinton Taft and her husband Charles Phelps Taft, the half-brother of U.S. President William Howard Taft. Highlights of the collection include masterpieces by Rembrandt, Hals, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Goya, Ingres, Turner, Corot, Millet, Whistler, and Sargent; Limoges enamels; Chinese porcelains; and what is perhaps the most important Gothic sculpture in America, the ivory Virgin and Child from the Abbey of Saint Denis. 

The collection is exhibited in the Tafts’ former home, the nucleus of which is a Federal-style villa built in 1820. In Dr. Lee’s two-year tenure as the Taft’s director, museum attendance rose, and the Taft hosted seven major exhibitions, ranging from a show on the neoclassical sculptor Hiram Powers to Views from the Uffizi: Painting the Italian Landscape.

Dr. Lee’s wife, Rima, is a writer with a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D in literature from Yale University. The Lees have two young sons.

The Kimbell Art Foundation’s board of trustees was assisted in the search by Naree Viner of Gary Kaplan and & Associates, based in Pasadena, California.

About the Kimbell Art Museum:

The Kimbell Art Museum, owned and operated by the Kimbell Art Foundation, opened in 1972. During its 36-year history it has had three forward-thinking directors: Richard F. Brown (1965-1979), Edmund P. Pillsbury (1980-1998), and Timothy F. Potts (1998-2007). Under their leadership, the museum has become a byword for quality and importance at the highest level. Its collections range in period from antiquity to the 20th century, including European masterpieces from Fra Angelico and Caravaggio to Cézanne and Matisse, and important collections of Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman antiquities, as well as Asian, Mesoamerican, and African arts. The museum possesses a core of works that not only epitomize their eras and styles, but also touch individual high points of aesthetic beauty and historical importance that assure them a place among the masterpieces of world art. 

The Kimbell’s internationally-renowned building, designed by Louis Kahn, is widely regarded as one of the supreme architectural achievements of the modern era. Newsweek magazine called it “. . . arguably the most beautiful museum in America . . .” In November 2008, the museum unveiled preliminary designs for a major addition, a new building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, that will double the museum’s existing gallery space, provide designated education facilities, expand the library area and offer a second larger auditorium. Following further refinement to the designs over the coming months, the Kimbell plans to break ground in 2010 and complete construction in 2012.

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