Malcolm Rogers

An extended version of the interview with Malcolm Rogers: curator, fundraiser, rabble-rouser, and director of the Museum of Fine Arts.

What are you most excited about going forward. What’s next?
As you know, we commission from Norman Foster a master plan that was intended to guide us through the 50 next years. Thanks to our benefactors, many of those steps that were planned for years ahead have already happened. We’ve restored the Huntington Avenue entrance, built new loading docks…the one outstanding thing from the master plan that has also come into focus, is that that we were able to buy the building next door, where we hope to establish a study center where all our curators can be together. When that happens — it’ll be years from now — we’ll be able to open about 25 galleries in this building, almost a whole new wing in this structure…perhaps 10 years from now.

Are you still going to be here in 10 years?
I’m getting quite old. My feel is, so long as I can refresh myself, I’m happy.

How do you refresh yourself?
You have to keep your brain working. You need a bit of divine madness that’s throwing ideas out all the time. You also have to surround yourself with strong people who have your ideas before you have them. The other thing I was going to say is that this is not a good economic time. I would never want to leave the museum at a time when anybody could say, “Rogers had great vision, but he left without paying the bills.” Does that make sense?

What are your own tastes in art? What do you like? What would you want in your home?
There’s a lot I’d want in my home. I was brought up, as a museum person, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, so I love portraits. Two of my favorite paintings in the MFA: One is the famous Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, which is just a knockout painting by all standards. In the Koch gallery is arguably El Greco’s greatest portrait, Fray Hortensio, a masterpiece of Spanish painting. I couldn’t single out one image, but something I’m especially proud of and has given me great pleasure is our collection of Japanese woodblock prints, which when I came was wrapped in brown paper and string… I will say, when I came here, I was determined not to have a favorite department. There has been a tendency in the past for directors to spend all the money on their favorite department.

Where do you tell people to go in the museum? What are the things that people often overlook?
People forget that outside Egypt, we have probably the greatest collection of Old Kingdom Egyptian sculpture in the world. And perhaps people don’t expect to find it in Boston. But the Egyptian sculpture here is unbelievable.