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UC Berkeley Museum Director Steps Down

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday September 25, 2007

Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive Director Kevin Consey will leave his post in January, the museum announced Friday. 

That means he won’t be in charge when the project he was hired to build—the new museum building on Center Street—is finally opened to the public. 

The sometimes controversial administrator took the helm at the university museum and film center on Jan. 1, 2000. His official date for leaving the post will be Jan. 2. 

In a prepared statement released by the museum, Consey said, “I have been privileged to work with a talented and energetic staff of the highest professional caliber during my tenure. The significant and substantial accomplishments produced during this time were due to our collaborative efforts and their intelligence, skill, and perseverance. 

“The continuing demanding work and challenges of the new building project and capital campaign need increased energy over the next several years. Eight years of service and significant accomplishments in the areas of institutional growth and preparatory fundraising, program development, architect selection, and conceptual design work for a new building mark a good time to step down and retire." 

Peter Selz, the museum’s founding director, welcomed the news. 

“He was not very competent and somewhat arrogant,” said Selz, who also acknowledged that Consey was effective at raising funds, “which is also important.” 

“I look forward to the chance of getting someone very talented to replace him,” he said. 

Selz particularly faulted Consey for his refusal to allow the museum to show the Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s paintings of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison—works Selz said were the most important creations of the last few years. 

“The Center for Latin American Studies had to show them in a special room at the library,” he said. “It was a very important show, and 15,000 people came.” 

Consey’s resignation comes less than a month after the UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau told the San Francisco Chronicle that Botero wanted to give the university all 25 paintings and 22 drawings in the series, with the proviso that some be permanently displayed. 

Whether or not the chancellor’s decision to accept the gift had any bearing on Consey’s decision to leave remained unclear as the Daily Planet went to press Monday evening. 

In addition to his campus duties, Consey also serves as one of the university’s ex officio representatives to the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee. 

The new museum planned for the northwest corner of the intersection of Center and Oxford streets will be one of the centerpieces of the proposed pedestrian plaza that would provide an architectural link between town and the university and is one of the key elements of the new plan now being completed by the committee. 

The plan results from the settlement of a city lawsuit challenging the university’s extensive plans for expansion into downtown Berkeley, and the university has final say over the document. 

Before joining the Berkeley museum, Consey had served as director of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where he presided over a similar building campaign. 

He had also served as director of the Newport Harbor Art Museum in the 1980s. 

Consey presided over an interim seismic upgrading of the museum’s aging Bancroft Way building, and has headed the efforts to raise funds for the new structure, now being designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito. 

During Consey’s tenure, the museum reported in a press release, the endowment for the institution nearly quadrupled, rising from $15.5 million to $60.8 million.