- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rifkin resigns

Ned Rifkin resigned yesterday as the undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian Institution.

“I was prepared to leave a year ago when Cristian Samper was installed as acting secretary, but he asked me to stay,” Mr. Rifkin said by telephone.

The art historian, who has held his position as undersecretary since 2004, said he timed his April 11 departure to coincide with the announcement of a new secretary of the Smithsonian by its board of regents as early as Tuesday. Mr. Samper, a biologist, has served as acting secretary since former Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence M. Small resigned in March 2007 amid criticism of his “Dom Perignon lifestyle,” in the words of Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican.

“My desire was to leave in front of the appointment of the new secretary so it wouldn’t appear as if I was commenting on their selection,” said Mr. Rifkin, one of five undersecretaries.

His resignation from the Smithsonian is the latest ripple in the growing wave of controversy surrounding the institution, which has taken fire for its lavish expenditures, accounting practices and deferred maintenance in its museums. At a 2007 Senate oversight committee hearing into these recent troubles, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, called the Smithsonian “an endangered institution.”

Mr. Rifkin said the problems weren’t the reason for his departure, but he noted, “I feel the controversies that we experienced here have been sad.”

During his four-year tenure, he oversaw eight Smithsonian museums, the Archives of American Art and Smithsonian Photography Initiative. Among his achievements was supervising the ambitious renovation of the Old Patent Office Building into the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. He also established a fellowship program for practicing contemporary artists.

Mr. Samper announced that he will not replace Mr. Rifkin but will have the Smithsonian art museums and organizations report to Richard Kurin, acting undersecretary for history and culture. As to what he plans to do next, Mr. Rifkin said he “will spend time writing” while “weighing the right opportunities inside or outside the museum world.”

Briefly

Winners: “The Great Man,” Kate Christensen’s novel about a celebrated painter and the three essential women in his life, has won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction, Associated Press reports. Miss Christensen, author of three previous novels, will receive $15,000. The four other finalists, each of whom will receive $5,000, are: Annie Dillard (“The Maytrees”) David Leavitt (“The Indian Clerk”) T.M. McNally (“The Gateway”) and Ron Rash (“Chemistry and Other Stories”) Previous winners of the award, established in 1980, include Philip Roth, E.L. Doctorow and Don DeLillo.

Vindicated: A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Robert De Niro by an insurance company that claimed he misrepresented his health for a movie role, AP reports. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. , which insured the 2005 film “Hide and Seek,” claimed the actor wrote that he had never been diagnosed with or treated for prostate cancer. According to court documents, Mr. De Niro was diagnosed with prostate cancer on Oct. 15, 2003, two days after he signed the medical certificate.

Caught: A man who sent Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster threatening letters for several years was arrested on Tuesday on charges of mailing a bomb threat to a Los Angeles airport, Reuters news agency reports. Michael Smegal, 42, of Holliston, Mass., was charged in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts with mailing a threatening letter to Van Nuys Airport in early December.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse and Deborah K. Dietsch from staff, Web and wire reports.

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