Peter Marzio

Duration: 44Mins 47Secs
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with:  Peter Marzio
Interviewed by:  Jim Barlow
Date:  March 4, 2008

 


JB:       It is March 4, 2008.  This is the City of Houston's Oral History Project.  I am Jim Barlow.  We are here at the Museum of Fine Arts talking to its director, Peter Marzio.  You came here in 1982, as I recall, right?

PM:      Yes, October 1.

JB:       And since then, if you look at membership, operations, operating costs, your endowment, the number of square feet buildings, the number of pictures and other art you have, it has mushroomed.  How do you explain that?

PM:      Well, I did not get in the way.  I think that is the best explanation.  The time was right, I think.  The Museum was slow in the beginning.  It was founded in 1900 but it did not have a building until 1924.  It only had a half-time director until 1954.  Then, it started a series of full-time directors.  The first one only lasted 4 years.  The second one was a very important man named James Johnson Sweeney.  He was probably too big in his ideas and I think frightened a lot of people because he wanted to make the museum a giant museum overnight and frankly, Houston was not ready for it.  The city had only then notched a million residents in 1960.  It is the first time it hit the one million mark and the museum was still small.  So, Sweeney lasted for 8 years and then _______ Montebello was here for 4 and he started a more professional kind of program in terms of starting some endowments and so forth.  And then, the boom times hit in the 1970s in Houston and Bill Agee was the director.  That is when trustees started thinking in a much bigger way.  And I think Bill helped lay the groundwork for that.  So, when I came in 1982, even though the economy was already declining rapidly, the ideas weren't and the rest of America was booming while the oil patch was in great difficulty.  So, it was simply interesting circumstances.  The ambition was there.  There wasn't always the money but the rest of America had money and so what we were able to do was to raise quite a bit of money outside of Texas and I think that got people even more confident that the Museum was going to do well.  They have not looked back.

JB:       Going back to the beginning, you were born in Governor's Island, a part of Manhattan.  That is an Army base.  Was your family in the Army?

PM:      Well, my dad was in the Second World War and so there was a hospital there and my mother was living in the Bronx at the time.  She had told me the story about taking a cab ride when the signal started all the way from 200th Street all the way down to the ferry boat which took her over to Governor's Island.  It must have been a heck of a ride.

JB:       Were you raised in the Bronx?

PM:      I was raised actually by an extended Italian family.  My father died when I was very young and my mom had some problems so there were 3 of my uncles who helped to raise me.  So, sometimes we were in Brooklyn, sometimes in the Bronx but a lot of the time was in Patterson, New Jersey.

JB:       You were a jock, right?

PM:      Yes, eventually.  I was not a very good student in high school but I did play football and got involved in other sports and held our discus record in New Jersey in track.  But I did that more than study when I was in high school.

JB:       What was your ambition in high school?

PM:      Well, I did not think I was going to graduate for a while because I was going to originally get a job in a gas station and I stayed my senior year initially because I wanted to participate in the discus event at Rutgers University at the State Championship.  But my track coach asked me to stay in school and what he did was he sent some cans of film to a little college he went to which was a big football school in a small division called Juniata College and they gave me a football scholarship assuming I could stay in academically.

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JB:       What was your major?

PM:      When I was an undergraduate, for almost 3 years, not quite 3 years, I was a geology major.  But I had almost equal number of credits in history and in art history, so I declared history in the end as my undergraduate major.

JB:       How did that come about?  How did you fall into the art world or did you climb?

PM:      Well, what happened was, it sounds hypocriphal but I had a very severe stutter when I was in high school and college and I did not really socialize very much outside of sports.  I was in a freshman class in Juniata, it was called Great Epochs of World Culture.  The professor put a slide on the screen and he said, "Does anyone have any comments about this painting?"  And I think it was the first time I ever raised my hand in class because I was always embarrassed about stuttering and I stammered through something.  I think he was so shocked that after class, he asked me to come up to stay after class.  So, I did and he said, "Well, you live in the New Jersey/New York area, don't you?"  I said, "Yes, sir."  He said, "Well, over Thanksgiving vacation, why don't you go to the Frick and write a paper about this painting because, you know, you are failing this course and maybe I can give you extra credit."  And so, I did not know Frick, Dick or Schnick and I took a bus from Patterson into New York and went to the Frick.  Then, it happened.  It turned out it was a painting by Goya called "The Forge" and it is still hanging in exactly the same place today as it was then.  And I don't know what it was - I just understood the painting formally.  I understood what it was about, I understood how it was organized and then I looked around the big salon with the other paintings in there like Rembrandt's "Polish Rider" and a number of the others and I just saw a world I did not know anything about but I knew I knew more about those pictures than anyone in the sense of how they were composed.  I still have that arrogant feeling today, that I can see better than anybody.  That changed everything, I mean, it just . . . from where I was, to get a university scholarship to University of Chicago was a big, big leap.

JB:       You obviously turned your undergraduate academic world around.

PM:      Yes, I did very well then after that.  I had never read a book before I went to college.  I never read a book cover to cover and I just started reading and looking.  I was not a very good writer in the beginning.  I could not write well but I had always had strong ideas and there were a number of professors who would pull their hair out trying to figure out my writing but a couple of them valued the originality of the thinking and that gave me a lot of confidence.

JB:       I think it was in 1973, you wrote a book called "Rube Goldberg: His Life in Art."  That really . . . I am a great Rube Goldberg fan.  I did not think that there would be an academic book in there.

PM:      Well, it was published by Harper and Row and the way it happened was Rube Goldberg was still alive - this was in 1970 - and the Smithsonian Institution . . . a great, great historian named Daniel J. Borsin was the director of the Museum of History and Technology, and he asked a very talented curator named Ann Golden to organize a show about sort of the foibles of technology, and he suggested that maybe we could do a show about Rube Goldberg to kind of poke fun at all the false promises of the great technological world.  And he asked me to sort of assist in the process.  So, to make a long story short, I got to know Rube very well.  Actually, Rube had cancer when we met but he lived to see the show and he died 8 days afterwards.  So, I was sitting in my office one day and one of the main editors of Harper and Row just called me and said, "Would you be interested in writing a book on Rube?"  So, I did it.  They published it in 1973.  It was a lot of fun.  It was great.

JB:       After University of Chicago, what was between that and the Smithsonian?

PM:      Nothing.  I had what they called a fellowship.  It was in 1968.  I went through Chicago very fast.  I got my master's degree in 9 months which, for Chicago, is considered unbelievably fast, and I did everything for my Ph.D. except the thesis by May of 1968.  So, I did not know quite what I was going to do and what the normal pattern is, is to get a job teaching and to then write your dissertation while you are teaching.  I had done teaching at 2 places - at Chicago and at a small inner-city school called Roosevelt University in Chicago, which is a wonderful place, particularly where a lot of GIs go and so forth when they were on the GI Bill.  So, I was at two ends of the spectrum - this very elite group and these guys just going to make their way through school.  And the one thing I found out was I hated teaching.  I mean, I just absolutely hated it.  And all my friends who were at the same level I was at, they loved teaching.  I mean, they felt so inspired when they left the classroom.  They felt like they saved the world.  And I thought it was a wasted 3 hours.  I did not know what I was going to do.  And here, I always thought I would teach on a small college campus and lead that kind of life and write books and so forth and boy, was that wrong.  So, I did not know what I was going to do and by a series of weird accidents, I got this fellowship to the Smithsonian and I wrote my dissertation in 9 months thanks to the fact that I could do it full-time.  Then, when I graduated from Chicago, the Smithsonian asked me to stay on as curator of prints.  So, it was fantastic.

JB:       Then, you were the curator of graphic arts?

PM:      Yes, I was curator of prints.

JB:       And then, you headed the Corcoran . . .

PM:      Yes.  What happened was I was about ready to get my 10 year pin at the Smithsonian and I had risen through the ranks.  I really got tired of government work.  I am not criticizing the Smithsonian - it is just government work was not for me because I just did not think people were working as hard as they could and their goals seemed to be not to get fired.  Of course, you cannot get fired unless you steal or do something really bad.  And I did not want to be in that environment anymore.  I learned a lot about museums and I will always be grateful for that but there wasn't enough ambition there.  So, I started looking around and the Corcoran hired me.  I had never run anything so, you know, that is where I started.

JB:       The ________ came to you and you turned them down.  With much thought?

PM:      Well, no, in the beginning, I honestly thought I would live in Washington my whole career because we had a really comfortable house right next to the Library of Congress on Capital Hill, I had my own special research office at the Library of Congress.  I could write, do my work.  It was like it was the ideal life.  And I was treated enormously well in Washington.  I know people think of Washington as dog eat dog and you get thrown away like garbage but I got treated . . . I mean, even to this day when I go back, I get treated really, really well.  I really enjoyed living in Washington.  So, when they first called, they had asked me and I said no but I gave them names of a lot of good people, they went through those names and then they came back to me and said, "Would you at least come down and talk to us?"  So, what I did was I . . . this was on a Friday.  So, on a Sunday, I went up to Baltimore Airport and took a flight, the cheapest flight I could find on my own nickel called Texas Air and I flew from Baltimore to Houston and spent the day Sunday here just riding around and looking at Houston and trying to get a feeling for it and looked at the museum and drove back and I will never forget - I had forgotten my key so I knocked on the door of the house and we had just redecorated and everything because we were there for the duration and my wife opened the door and she looked at me and she said, "Oh, no!"  So, we started talking and here we are.

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JB:       What changed your mind?

PM:      I don't know.  Part of it was this arrogance I have.  I looked around and, you know, that drive in . . . at that time, I drove in on 59 and there were junkyards and all kinds of things that were just . . . and then you get downtown, because I had made a wrong move so I found myself downtown, and here you had these new skyscrapers - it was like a new car showroom.  You had one model by each person.  And here you had this perfect building, usually a pristine sculpture outside, great sidewalk.  The next block had no sidewalk.  And that incongruity of sort of excellence and raw, ragged quality, the incongruity of it just stimulated me a lot and the kind of things that turn people off about Houston are what turned me on about Houston.  And when I came to the MFA, it was having a hard time financially at the time.  The staffing was pretty lean.  And when I walked in, things, I did not think, were quite the way they should be and I thought to myself, you know, I could make a difference here.  It just turned out to be a good fit.

JB:       When you came here, did you think you were going to be here this long?

PM:      Well, my friends back east did.  I mean, they have this notion even to this day that somehow we are somehow a lower level of beings or something - I don't know what it is - but there is this built-in sense . . . part of it is perpetuated by the myth making that Texans love to carry out but nevertheless, to this day . . . and I stopped explaining it to them now.  I said, "You just don't get it."  In the beginning, I did not really think so.  I mean, there were a couple of very major job offers during my run where I seriously thought about moving but then, I could not answer one question and that is why would I want to leave Houston?  And I just did not have an answer.

JB:       And I suspect now, you are probably here forever or at least . . .

PM:      Yes, well, I am almost 65 now so, I mean, yes, I would like to if we can.  I think the only question now is whether I retire in the next couple of years or whether I stay on and try to get the third building built that we want to build and so forth.  Otherwise . . . it will depend on the rhythm of the institution.  I don't want to do anything that stops the momentum of the institution.  This is our final job.  But I would like it to go out with a big bang if we could.

JB:       How has not just the trustees but the supporters of the MFA changed over your tenure?

PM:      Well, I mean, certainly because I have been here now almost 26 years, there has been a generational change.  Many of the great people who initially inspired me, people like Mrs. Brown, Alice Pratt Brown and Caroline Law and Audrey Beck and Hugo Newhouse and General Maurice Hersch and all the people across the board who had that sort of element of civility that my generation does not have frankly, I felt cared for by them and that was nice.  And then I realized one of the hardest things to adjust to was to move from someone who received the care to someone who gave the care.  And that is kind of the position I am in now.  I mean, I am older than most of the trustees and it is mostly a combination of that next generation of people who want to follow in their parents' or grandparents' footsteps.  That is one small segment.  The second area is the Museum has willingly allowed me to expand the broad base of support for the institution, because that is what I believe in the most.  We use a phrase that I know sounds trite but it is the driving phrase for us and that is that the Museum is a place for all people.  And because of what Art did for me, coming out of a low middle income environment and not having an kind of art nurturing, and knowing that forget the good things that art can do from a high-minded point of view, just think of what art did for America by taking me probably working most of my life in a gas station or something, maybe paying some taxes but probably being as much a drag on society as I would have been a contributor, to someone who, at the most basic level, at least put a lot of money into the U.S. Treasury.  And I thought that, to say nothing of hopefully doing a lot more than that, so I told the trustees that the educational programs and making sure that every citizen is clear that this place is open to them, was important.  And if you look at the board now, I think you would see it reflects that in terms of age, gender, certainly religions, racial type.  I mean, I don't care how you cut it, it is pretty good and I think that it also betrays a lot of those slanderous stereotypes about Houston.

JB:       Someone once wrote that one of the businesses of high art institutions, museums, operas and so on is trading social status for contributions.  Do you agree with that?

PM:      There is probably a part of that.  I mean, good art is the result of discriminating taste.  I know discrimination is a bad word in America but usually it means an educated, whatever it is, taste in the case of art.  Yes, there is probably some . . . I hope there is some prestige with it but that is why opening the board and everything up to the broadest base of people so that you, too, can become an involved member of the MFA, I think that means that that status is not relegated to people who are defined only by income or only by generational histories or only by color or religion or anything like that.  So, I hope it is prestigious and I hope it is broad enough so that everyone has a chance to take part in that prestige.

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JB:       Was there an exhibit, a show of some sort that you think put your signature on the MFA or changed the way the MFA . . .

PM:      There have been a number, and each one contributed in a different way.  We did a show here early on you probably remember called Fresh Paint where we called the Houston School, where we were really the first institution to kind of look at the art of the Houston area and see a style and suggest that this was really something worth dealing with and also the catalog is one of the basic histories of the cultural life of the city.  I think that showed that the Museum was not abandoning its roots in terms of the creative people who lived here.  When we did the Great Henry VIIIth Portraits of His Wives by Hans Holbein, Channel 8 were doing then the Wives of Henry VIIIth, that series, and they asked me to be the Alistair Cooke for the opening and closing of each episode and, of course, we use the exhibit and the portraits in the exhibit to open and close it.  That gave me a good feel for the level of communication skill at that point in the city.  And then, the first big Chinese show we did called "The Treasures of the Shanghai Museum" which, at that point, was the highest attended show, I think, in Texas history.  People had never seen long lines to get in to the MFA before.  And so, all of those . . . 3 kinds of things: popularity, broad access to communication and local rootedness sort of came early on in my tenure and gave me a sense of both what the limitations were and what the opportunities were.

JB:       I've noticed one thing about much of the exhibits here - that they often show a lot of humor.  Art itself is humorous or is that something that you . . .

PM:      I like to have fun.  I mean, I like to juxtapose things that people don't normally think of juxtaposing.  If you don't play around a little bit . . . I mean, art . . . like, for example, there is a great artist named Paul Clay and oftentimes in his paintings and drawings and prints, he will put a little joke in there, a funny little character or something, and as a result, he has always suffered a little bit in the critics because somehow you are not supposed to laugh in a museum.  I don't know - I think that is pretty sad.  That may be what Rube Goldberg contributed to my art education career.

JB:       I am sure you have had exhibits that you felt were great and were really proud of and the public didn't.

PM:      Oh, yes, we had colossal . . . I could write a whole encyclopedia about boo-boos.  In fact, a friend of mine gave me a cartoon that appeared in the New Yorker in the 1980s and it is the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a big banner hanging down and on the banner is written "Bloopers and Boopers of the Old Bastards."

JB:       Why do you think there was a lack of interest?

PM:      I don't know.  I mean, for example, the most colossal failure in my opinion - I mean, you won't even remember the show - I think about 8 people showed up for it.  We did a show at the National Gallery on the Indian art of the East Coast and the mound builders that you find in Arkansas and Indiana and so forth, and the stuff is much older than the western Indians.  It is because the western Indians did not bury their material in quite the same way so it was not preserved.  So, you were dealing with things that were, in some cases, 1,000 years old -- the most famous object being a mica schist hand that was just so beautiful that they found, I think, in one of the Alabama Mountains.  I just thought the things were breathless.  They were just stunning.  It was a bomb at the National Gallery and it bombed here, too.  I don't know what drives people.  I have never made an exhibit decision based on attendance which is very different from a lot of other institutions, and that is one of the great things about the board here.  They don't make attendance the defining character because otherwise, you would have a pretty bad museum.

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JB:       How did you learn the business of the Museum?

PM:      You know, Jim, I really wish I could give you a good sense of that.  All I can tell you is that when I left the University of Chicago and I went to the Smithsonian, my first day in the institution, I felt like I knew I was home and I was in a storage room.  I mean, my office was in a storage room and I just felt at home.  Maybe because I did not frequent museums.  As I said, the first museum I ever went into was the Frick when I was in college.  Maybe I could see it from the outside in a way that more knowledgeable people couldn't and by then, I had learned so much about the history of man and the history of civilization and I realized that the institution, like a good museum, has a lot to tell people.  So, the only question is how to teach people about the history of man using objects?  And, I don't know, it just seemed natural to me, that part of it.  So, the curatorial side I felt really comfortable with right from day one and during that time, I wrote quite a few books and I was able to . . . I wrote the Smithsonian’s bicentennial book, "A Nation of Nations."  So, I was really comfortable in that environment.  The business side of it, see, that side of it is the expense side.  So, for my first 10 years, all I did was spend money.  I was involved in raising some money but basically, I did not have to raise the operating budget because that came from the federal government.  But when I got to the Corcoran, that was a very poor museum and I did not even know what the development officer was.  I swear I thought the development officer was someone who took care of the building like a development in an apartment complex or something.  So, it just started out and it turned out that I discovered American businessmen then because when I worked for the Smithsonian, it is a very sheltered environment, it is a wonderful place to get certain kinds of work done but you do not really discover the genius of America until you discover the American businessman.  And I just fell in love with the American businessmen.  I just saw them risk taking, imagination - the whole thing.  And that really intrigued me.  And being there was no business in Washington, all of this was done in New York because that is where all the fund raising would be done by the Washington institutions.  And I just felt so comfortable in that environment and that my job was to convince a hard-headed businessman that art was worth his or her attention.  It was like a hunt, you know, and I really liked it.  I liked it a lot.  And once you have the money, you can stumble a little bit and still get things done and you learn after you stumble.  If you don't have the money and you stumble, you are finished and I was always able to avoid that.

JB:       Let's talk about the various expansions of the Museum since you have been here.  Let's talk about some of the expansions that occurred on your watch here.  This building.  Am I correct - did it expand at all?

PM:      No, not this building.

JB:       O.K., but the Beck Building?

PM:      The expansions in the order that they occurred were the Naguchi Sculpture Garden, then the building on Montrose Avenue where the junior school, the Glassell School, is housed, plus the central administration offices.  Then, the renovation of Bayou Bend which was a very big deal.  And then, we purchased and renovated the off-site storage facility which is a 50,000 square foot building across from American General, I guess it is AIG now.  And then, the building of the Beck Building and the garage.  And now, we are getting ready to break ground for the visitor's center for Bayou Bend.  And then when that is done, depending on timing and money, we will see if we can build a third building for 20th century contemporary art.

JB:       Where would that building be?

PM:      Right across the street next to the sculpture garden in what is now the parking lot.

JB:       And would you build a parking garage?

PM:      And then, we have a parking garage planned for north of the Glassell School.  You know, the irony in this was for years, I had a carpenter's union card out of Armonk, New York and my different uncles sometimes in the summer, I would work with them.  They were mostly union jobs in the city because they paid the most.  That is why I had to get a card.  One was a painter, one was a bricklayer and one was a plasterer and I swore that when I started going to college, I was really going to work hard because I did not want to be involved in building projects the rest of my life.  So, of course, the first thing I start doing is building!

JB:       In this sort of expansion, first, I assume, comes the money.  Generally speaking, do you have to raise all the money before you start?

PM:      Well, actually, it is probably a step before that the money obviously is a key but the key to fundraising is, is the thing you are raising money for worth it?  And so, it is the quality of the idea and the quality of the project.  Generally what I have found in Houston is that if the idea is right, the money follows it.  So, in each case, probably you spend, at least I spend, a lot more time on the front end trying to get the idea and the project right so that it really sits right and the way I have done that is try to involve as many people as possible in the thinking.  For example, right now, in dealing with this 20th century and contemporary building, I don't have it right yet in my head and I can tell when I am talking to people.  You know, like when you talk to your dog and he kind of goes like this?  That tells me I am not on point.  So, that is first.  Then, the trick is to try to at least find what I learned the first thing when I came to Texas, the first fundraising effort I was involved in, when the trustees said, "Who is going to be the bell cow?"  So, I found out what a bell cow was and that, you do need.  You need someone who has the capability, who can plant the stake in the ground and say, O.K., I want to do this and I will take the lead, and in each of the projects, that is what we have had.  When you don't have that, I am not saying you can't do it without that but it becomes quite difficult.

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JB:       Which leads to another interesting question:  A college president's job really is to raise money.  What is your job?  The number one thing?

PM:      What I am paid for more than anything else is to guarantee aesthetic excellence in the institution.  Without that, there is nothing else.  And I don't think it is that hard to raise money.  I don't think it is that hard to run an art museum.  It is keeping your priorities straight because raising money is not the end goal.  It is only a means and the end goal is, is the thing you are raising money for important, is it worth it, is it going to have everlasting value?  And that is the hardest thing, is assembling people who can help you determine that and winning the confidence of the people with the money that they believe in what you want to do.  Oftentimes, it takes a lot of educating because in Texas, as you know, well, even right now, still in Houston you cannot get a master's or Ph.D. in art history.  There is only one Ph.D. program in the entire state.  And it is still possible to go from pre-K to post Ph.D. in the Texas school system and never encounter a visual arts course.  So, that means that there are a lot of very intelligent, very successful people who have never even been force to trip over any kind of artistic activity in the visual arts anyway.  That is starting way back.  I mean, if you compare it to the educational systems in other areas that we are always comparing ourselves to - Chicago, Los Angeles and New York - it is a whole different game.  And the real amazing thing is, is that Houston has developed a number of leaders over its history who have inspired people artistically despite the lack of formal or even casual training in art.

JB:       Is this why you pushed this program to bring all the third graders into the Museum?

PM:      Yes, all of it.  I mean, we do it with anyone we can.  When we say a place for all people, we spend . . . and if we can't get them here, we go out to them.  I think last year, our outreach program in terms of the libraries and our visits to the schools and the homes for the elderly and the hospitals and all the rest of it.  I think the number was about over one million people.  And that does not count in our attendance.  That is just out there but we do keep track of it and that is people we touch directly, not a multiplier effect or anything like that.  It is a big, big job.  Very few museums at our level do that.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art which has a great education program - the people just walk in.  That is the way it is in Chicago.  Even in Los Angeles, there is much more of a habit now of sort of going.  But we are still in that phase where if we don't keep stimulating the interest by going out there and almost getting in people's faces, people forget about you.

JB:       Have you considered satellite?

PM:      Yes, we actually have a small cooperative venture.  Actually, we have two now.  One has been going on for a while in Beeville which is quite a ways from here.  It is about a 5 hour drive.  But that is because the Joe Barnhart Foundation wanted to do things and we were able to partner with them and help but it is their operation - it is just that we are a partner and we have a presence there.  Now, up in Spring and Cypress Creek, there is the Pearl Fincher Museum that will open in about one month.  We played a big role in that and we are even helping them.  We are providing the exhibits to them and so forth.  And other museums in town I think are talking about doing that and some have done it.  I want to do it not so much to make money because that is usually what drives people to do it, is to franchise it and to make money.  That does not interest me.  I think it hurts the mother institution in the long run.  Our job is to be like the helper wheels on a two wheel bicycle.  To get them going, get the wheels off and then when they want to drive around to us, they can do that.  That is where we are headed.

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JB:       What are some of the collections that you are most proud to have acquired?

PM:      Well, it is so hard to pinpoint because when I first came, I think we had about 20,000 objects in the Museum and now, the latest number I saw was 58,000 something.  In terms of market value, that is in the billions of dollars.  It is so hard to tell.  The collections that have improved the most would probably be the 20th century collection, the photography collection, and the whole area of decorative arts for various reasons has just exploded.  And then, our painting collection, particularly from about 1700 to about 1900 because that is where a lot of the heavy money has gone.  And actually, you know, the Beck collection improved by about one-third during that period because Audrey was still involved and we were going after some of the bigger things.  And then, the most dramatic by far of the collections - we went from almost zero to having one of the highest quality collections in the country is in antiquities, Roman and Greek primarily with some Egyptian.  Not the biggest but I think almost anybody would tell you, for example, we probably have the number one Greek bronze in America, one of the best in the world and all of that has been added in the 26 years.

JB:       You have lived in Washington, Chicago.  Obviously, you are familiar with the other large cities.  How would you compare Houston to those?

PM:      Well, I spent most of my life . . . as you said, I lived in New York as a child.  I never lived there as an adult . . . I have lived in Chicago, Washington, and Rome, Italy, and virtually all of those cities - not virtually, those cities - Washington is an oddball, you have to leave that out for a minute - the cities that really are natural cities, they are what I would call retail-oriented.  They are cities where the economy really depends on communication, on selling, so that there is a real commercial hub-bub of buying and selling.  Houston is the only major city I have lived in that is primarily a wholesale city and that is if you look at how they make their money, it is upstream oil, agriculture, the Port, and then a way distant fourth which I would argue is not a normal retail activity, is kind of medical.  And then, if you do the banking and the legal connected with that, I am pulling a number from the air but I've gotten it from various places -- it is about 70% of the economy, which means that the way Houston does not have the communication media infrastructure that other cities live off of and that the idea of companies talking to vast numbers of people is not in the Houston mindset; that is, because Houston sends its products to other companies who then do the marketing.  What that means is the city has no voice to speak of.  I mean, I can remember in 2000 when the Democrats were trashing the city for its poor environment; that is, the air quality and so forth.  The city could not even respond.  It did not even . . . if you had said that in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, you would have been blasted.  I mean, look at the media market.  I think Houston, even though it is supposedly the fourth largest city in America, is like the 14th largest TV market or something like that.  Now, this is not good or bad.  It is just that it leads to the thing I like best about Houston; namely, it is the freest, most individualistic society I have ever lived in.  That is also due to the fact that government is so small both in Texas and in Houston.  I have been told and if it is not true exactly, it is close to true, that Texas spends less per citizen in tax dollars than any other state in the union.  And, once again, I am not arguing it one way or the other - all I am saying is that it is, look ma, no hands!  And there is very little safety net.  And that is what I find the most stimulating thing and what makes it fundamentally different than other cities.  It is not cowboys and it is not all of that - it is this notion of the individual and of freedom and tolerance.  It is the most tolerant city I have ever encountered.  We have done things at the Museum over and over again where, if it had been done in Washington or New York or lots of other places, there would have been a great furor, there would have been threats to close the door and so forth and so on or go to court and all of that.  In Houston, the notion is if someone doesn't like what you are doing, they just ignore you.  And so, I find it . . . that, to me, is the biggest difference between Houston and every place else I have lived.