So while Malcolm Rogers certainly has heard his critics, he isn't concerned enough to let them get him down. Why should he? With the money rolling in, a secure basis in his position and the massive new wing in the works, life must feel pretty good. The conservative line laid down against his actions, moreover, has made it easy for him to embrace the role of the populist. And let's face it - siding with "what the people want" rarely proves a losing move in the culture industry.
Curiously, then, toward the end of his lecture, Rogers went on a tangent, speaking out against theory-laden or obscurantist writing on art. In a sense this was a way to recast his populism in a conservative mode (as he did on occasion at other times through the evening), the better to establish that he, too, stood for standards, just not in the same way as his antagonists. So after mocking a few entries from a Winslow Homer catalog that featured Freudian readings, he drew himself up and declared the outrage was that nonsense of this kind got watered down and leaked into the popular press. His target, it turned out, was Boston Globe writer Christine Temin, who in this article had questioned some of the acquisitions made under Rogers' tenure. Of the MFA’s recently acquired Sargent’s portrait of Charles Stewart, Sixth Marquess of Londonderry, she had written
The [painting] is ridiculous; visitors giggle at the sight of that phallic sword. The rationale for acquiring the painting is that the MFA lacked a full-length male portrait by Sargent, but surely its many other Sargents suffice for a single institution.
Temin has been one of his chief antagonists in the local press, so the chance to put her down was probably irresistible. That she had a serious point to make about the MFA’s collecting made her annoying; but I am willing to bet that it was the derision that hit hardest. High-minded lectures from colleagues don’t touch home, laughter does. So we were treated to Rogers absurdly complaining about how many visitors may have had the painting ruined for them by her criticism. In truth the painting is both funny and engaging – not at the same level as the MFA’s other great Sargents, but still pretty good (aside from the sword, there's the exuberantly painted fruit salad on the Marquess' chest, and the snotty attendant to laugh at and enjoy.) The army of different funds in the credit line shows how invested the institution is in the painting, though; and investments must be protected.