Alumnus Mundy positions art over business at FLLAC

Director of the Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center James Mundy ’74 loves art. And with his extensive museum knowledge and passion for artwork, he is seen by many students as a valuable resource at Vassar.

Mundy, an Art History major himself, graduated with the first class of matriculated men at Vassar at a time when new ideas and practices were surfacing at the College. He developed a personal relationship with Vassar that has profoundly influenced his own research and career.

This relationship has helped him to bring a distinct presence to the Loeb. “I feel a personal attachment and responsibility about the place. It was a blank canvas for me to run, arrange, and set up many of the programs. It’s not quite like a member of my family, but I do take pride in everything we’ve managed to do here,” Mundy shared.

When he is not overseeing the ins-and-outs of life at the museum, such as a leak in the roof or a personal request for time off, he is invested in his own sector of research and art history. At Vassar, he wrote his dissertation on Northern European artists of the late 15th century, and has taught classes in European Renaissance art, Italian Renaissance art and the history of photography. His area of expertise is Italian drawings, and for many years his research focused on the lives of two Italian brothers who traveled throughout Rome and Florence producing over a thousand paintings of palaces and churches.

Mundy has spent 21 years working at The Lehman Loeb Art Center. After graduating and working as an Art History professor for a few years at Mount Holyoke College, Mundy returned to Vassar in 1991 where he helped the Loeb develop into what it is today. His critical perspective as an art director is influenced by his experience as both a faculty member and an alumnnus.

“The Vassar education gave me a terrific foundation in appreciating the history of works of art, and that is important because the temptation today when you are running a museum is to think of it as a business, and to have all of these business and administrative fundraising concerns consume your every waking hour,” Mundy explained.

“If you’re well trained in the history of art you realize that it is all about the art. It’s not about whether we have state of the art graphics on our website or a marketing plan; it’s about the art. If you’re well prepared in art, you never lose that,” he added.

In the classroom, Mundy has a similar sentiment regarding the appreciation and study of works of art. Before this year, which acquitted the director of teaching an art seminar, Mundy specialized in teaching the forensics of works of art at Vassar.

“I teach the things that are factual that you could enter into a court of law. So it’s all about hands-on experience in observing works of art and studying them for the facts that you can gain from them. It’s only at that point, once you understand what the works are themselves, that you can begin to use them to interpret aspects of cultural life and different times,” Mundy explained.

Mundy also teaches his students how to recognize fraudulence and forgery. For example, if a student were to write a term paper on a 17th century work of art and discover that it actually belongs to the 20th century, he or she could use the skills that Mundy teaches to unravel the mystery.

“It’s important to know that what you’re looking at is what you think you’re looking at, and that’s what we can do here because we have such a big collection of works of art, over 18,000, and we’ve been collecting all these works since 1861 when the College was founded. It allows us to take our students to the real thing, to the source, and teach them from what we know to be real, and if not we can show them those things which are fraudulent,” Mundy explained.

The Loeb is currently in a good position to bring in more exhibitions and further support Vassar’s various departments. “It’s not just about art history. It’s about using works of art in the languages, in the sciences and in the social sciences. It’s great for me to see painting and sculpture looked at in many different fields,” Mundy shared.

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