Fordham University, until now better known for turning out judges and prosecutors than for its art holdings, is opening a new museum of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art, with a display of more than 200 objects donated by a Fordham alumnus.
The gift — from William Walsh, the founder of Sequoia Associates, an investment firm in Menlo Park, Calif., that specializes in leveraged buyouts — means that Fordham now has the largest collection of ancient art of any New York-area university. The museum opens tomorrow. It occupies 4,000 square feet in the William D. Walsh Family Library, for which Mr. Walsh donated $10 million in 1997.
Mr. Walsh said in an interview that he studied Greek and Latin as an undergraduate at Fordham. When he decided it was time to donate his collection, "I thought: 'What better than to give it back to Fordham, where they still have a classics program, and let students benefit by looking at the real things?'"
The new museum's collection has "an impressive chronological span" — from the 10th century B.C.E. through the third century C.E. — and encompasses a variety of materials and media, the curator, Jennifer Udell, said. It includes black- and red-figure Greek vases, Etruscan pottery, and what Ms. Udell called "a nice selection of Roman sculpture," including a bronze head of the emperor Caracalla, which has been exhibited and published often since it came on the market in 1967.
Ms. Udell, who was hired to catalog and install the collection, spent more than six years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she worked on the reinstallation of the Greek and Roman Galleries. Although her first priority, since starting the job in June, has been to design the installation and create labels, the university will ultimately publish a catalog of the collection, which will include all the available provenance information.
In recent years, the Italian and Greek governments have been on a campaign to repatriate antiquities they believe were exported illegally. Last year, the Met signed an accord with Italy to return 21 artifacts, including a Greek vase known as the Euphronios krater, in exchange for long-term loans of similar objects. But the Met's director, Philippe de Montebello, has publicly expressed his ambivalence about being forced to surrender the objects, arguing that, while the Met makes these materials available for people from all over the world to see and appreciate in the context of a universal culture, host countries tend to hoard antiquities, storing them and not making them publicly available.
When Ms. Udell, who is 44, was asked by The New York Sun about the possibility of restitution claims, her tone was rather different from that of her old boss. If the government of a host country came forward with a claim to an object, she said, "[M]y attitude — which I learned at the Met — is, if it's a legitimate claim, we're happy to work with the government and repatriate it."
She added: "It's all part of the process. You put [the collection] out there and make it accessible and make it transparent, and if it goes back, it goes back."
Not that she would be pleased to see anything go. "If the carabinieri called me and said, 'We want the volute krater by the Virginia Exhibition Painter back,' it would suck," she said, referring to one of the collection's prized objects. "But you've got to be open about this, especially about objects that were collected [before the standards were agreed upon]. I wouldn't be happy about it, but I would be a lot happier doing the right thing, [which is] the legal thing."
Mr. Walsh said that he always bought through the major auction houses, so he felt confident about the provenance of his pieces.
Ms. Udell said that Fordham does not currently have a faculty member in the art history department specializing in antiquities; a professor who specialized in late antiquity left for Cornell recently, and the university is in the process of hiring her replacement.
Ms. Udell is also responsible for the rest of Fordham's art holdings, which include several Benjamin West paintings, drawings by the American artist John Trumbull, and a Rembrandt etching — "somewhere," she said, adding that she has been so busy installing the Greek and Roman art that she hasn't actually seen it yet.