An art collector who has donated a large Salvador Dali collection to a new St. Petersburg, Fla., museum built just for the works, yesterday issued a written apology for his anti-Semitic remarks that caused a stir in the local Jewish community.
Reporter Ronald Boyd quoted from the 1960 journal of Cleveland businessman and art collector A. Reynolds Morse Sunday in the St. Petersburg Times. "Art is not the pure and dispassionate thing that so many people believe it to be. . . . Behind the scenes, it is vile and conniving, lending itself especially to an amorality of the Jews attracted to it for easy money," the paper reported Morse wrote in a journal from Paris.
The story, part of a special section on the much-anticipated museum which opens tomorrow, continued: "Morse still believes Jews 'ruined' and 'exploited' the world art market. To him such ideas were not anti-Semitic or extreme, they were simply 'telling it like it is.' "
After a call from a Jewish community leader, St. Petersburg Mayor Corinne Freeman called a museum trustee to request an apology from Morse.
"This is a magnificent museum," said Freeman yesterday, "and we don't want to see it hurt."
In an "open letter to the city," which Morse wrote only hours before a scheduled reception celebrating the museum, Morse said he was aware of "a very strong reaction of disappointment and concern" over his statements.
According to museum trustee James Healey, Morse's letter, which the Times plans to run today, says in part, "Upon reviewing the article carefully, I was distressed to realize how, out of context, certain words can create unfortunate impressions which I greatly regret. The comments attributed to me should in no way be construed to reflect pejoratively upon the Jewish people and most especially upon the many fine upright people in this or any other community. The stereotyping of any kind implying ethical or immoral behavior is wrong. I did not mean it in that way, and if I've been guilty or indiscreet, I apologize sincerely."
Morse's collection of works by the Spanish surrealist is thought to be the largest in the world. Valued at $35 million, it includes 93 oils, 200 watercolors and drawings and 1,000 prints, among other items. The 67-year-old collector, a longtime friend of Dali, had sought a museum that would keep the collection intact. The City of St. Petersburg agreed to the condition and, with a $2-million state grant, built the museum adjacent to the University of South Florida's Bayboro campus.
Rabbi Jan Bresky, vice president of the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis, said earlier yesterday that he had spoken to other rabbis in the St. Petersburg area about "boycotting the museum. You might say it's under consideration."
Bresky also said, "We are writing to all the sponsors of the special section of the Sunday St. Petersburg Times asking them to retract their support. We want letters from them saying that they didn't know that they were sponsoring a section in which that quote would appear."
Bresky said he planned to mention the incident at services last night marking the holiday of Purim at his temple, Ahavat Shalom, in suburban Tampa. "I'm going to relate it to the story of Purim," he said, "which is the story of how Jews overcame anti-Semitism in the ancient country of Persia. Anti-Semitism is obviously still very much with us today. Just like the Jews of ancient times, we have to be aware of it and fight it."
Associates of the museum and Morse expressed surprise and "distress" at the quote. "I was amazed by it . . ." said Joan Kropf, the museum's curator. "It just can't be."
Healey, a Florida businessman and the president of the Dali Institute--which raises funds for the museum--called the incident "unfortunate" and said that the newspaper's quote "doesn't represent any kind of thinking or policy of the museum or trustees. . . . We're sorry about what's happened."