On his third day as the new director and president of the Cleveland Museum of Art, William Griswold visited the museum's Brahma statue.
The life-sized granite statue of the Hindu god is one of Griswold's favorite pieces in the museum's collection. "The piece has few rivals anywhere in the world," he says.
It's fitting that Griswold might gravitate toward the Brahma, which carries out creation in the Hindu tradition. Four heads look in each direction while its four arms, one extended in a sign of gift giving, suggest superhuman power. "I have admired [it] since the first time I saw it," he says.
Griswold, the former director of New York City's Morgan Library and Museum, arrives at a momentous time in CMA's history — one full of creative potential. The museum has just completed its $350 million renovation, and in less than two years, it will celebrate its centennial anniversary.
But it's also emerging from a turbulent time. Last fall, David Franklin, the museum's former director, resigned after news of his affair with a museum employee who later committed suicide. "It's a tragic situation, and I think that's all there is to be said about it," Griswold says. "The museum's turned a page."
He has experience with large-scale renovation projects, including an 113,000-square-foot expansion at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, while he was director from 2005 to '07. At the Morgan, he oversaw a $4.5 million refurbishment of the famed 1906 library.
He also helped re-envision Morgan's atrium as a temporary gallery space, bringing in displays, such as a Spencer Finch colored lighting gel exhibit, which helped turn the area into a futuristic garden of light. Griswold sees similar potential for CMA's glassy atrium. "It seems clear to me that the space presents a huge opportunity for art," he says.
While attracted to CMA's extensive collection, Griswold's first love is Italian Renaissance drawings. He is captivated by their intimacy, and the way they "bring the viewer closer than any other form of artistic expression to the mind and hand responsible for their creation," he says. Griswold was so taken with the art form that he abandoned plans to be a lawyer for a doctorate in Italian drawing from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
"He is a noted scholar, a proven administrator and an inspiring leader with infectious enthusiasm for the potential of museums to be a force for inspiration and change," says Fred Bidwell, the museum's interim director, who served on the director search committee.
Like the Brahma, Griswold's initial focus will be outward. "With the museum being partially closed, I think a lot of people haven't been here for a while," he says. "It's my job to encourage museumgoers all over the country and the world to visit Cleveland. I plan to spend as little time as possible behind my desk."