The Philadelphia Museum of Art today will name as its new leader Timothy Rub, chief executive officer of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Rub, 57, will take the post on Sept. 1, succeeding Anne d'Harnoncourt, who died last June after a quarter-century at the museum's helm.

"This, for me, was a remarkable opportunity," Rub said. "This is a decision that I made with my heart as well as my mind. Philadelphia is just one of this country's great museums."

He leaves Cleveland after only three years - a short tenure, but an eventful one.

During that time, the museum undertook a major expansion, acquired important new works, and was embroiled in the controversial question of provenance in an episode that ended with the return of 14 allegedly stolen or looted ancient works (all acquired decades ago, apparently innocently) to Italy in a deal with the government there.

Rub was just starting to see the fruits of his labors in improvements to Cleveland's physical plant. The first of three planned wings opened this month as part of a $350 million expansion and renovation that aims to boost the museum's space by 50 percent by 2013.

He said the decision to leap to Philadelphia in mid-project was difficult.

"But it came down to feeling a great, great sense of passion and fondness for this museum and the collection and what it stands for," he said.

The naming of a new director triggers a number of other changes in the museum's leadership.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, whose plan to step down as board chair was deferred when d'Harnoncourt died, said he would continue for a time after Rub's arrival, then resign, probably in the fall.

The museum's temporary heads will resume their previous posts. Alice Beamesderfer, named chief of curatorial affairs after d'Harnoncourt's death, will resume her previous title of associate director for collections. Gail M. Harrity, the museum's chief operating officer, who has been functioning as interim CEO, will report to Rub, but with a more impressive title expected to be announced after the new director arrives.

Keith L. Sachs, who cochaired the search committee with Martha Hamilton Morris, said a large pool of talent from around the world was considered during the last 10 months - 75 names, according to Lenfest - from which 11 candidates were interviewed. Those 11 were narrowed to three finalists.

Rub was chosen, Sachs said, because of his solid art-history background, and his experience in managing building and fund-raising projects. During his three years in Cleveland, the museum raised about $80 million for its $350 million project; it has about $138 million to go.

"He's a very, very seriously and well-regarded director within the art world, and we felt he was the one for us," Sachs said.

"I think he'll hit the ground running with his experience and background, and it's a real coup to get him," Lenfest said.

According to Beamesderfer, when her staff "would all sit around brainstorming about who we would like, his name always came to the top of the list."

"We speak to our colleagues," she said, "and we know by reputation that he's very supportive of excellence in exhibitions, committed to scholarship - all of the things that are important to the curatorial staff and the museum as a whole."

Several Cleveland Museum of Art leaders expressed a great sense of loss.

"I think that this news is going to be very upsetting to a lot of people," said Michael J. Horvitz, board chair of the Cleveland museum. "People felt the museum was in good hands with him, and it was. I think it's going to be a very good thing for Philadelphia."

"We think Philadelphia has hired just an outstanding museum director, and we're sorry to see him leave Cleveland," said Alfred M. Rankin Jr., the board's president. "We wish that he was able to stay longer with us."

Rub's appointment - he will be both director and CEO - became official at a June 18 board meeting, but the announcement was delayed until after the openings of the new wing in Cleveland and of an exhibition there that honors former director Sherman E. Lee, revered in Cleveland much as d'Harnoncourt was in Philadelphia.

Rub said that no contract had yet been signed with the Philadelphia museum, but that he expected the initial deal to cover three years.

He declined to say what his salary would be, referring the question to the museum's spokesman; the museum's spokesman referred the question to Lenfest; Lenfest declined to say what the salary would be, citing Rub's request to keep it confidential.

D'Harnoncourt earned a base salary of $326,397 in the year that ended June 2007, according to the museum's tax returns. Rub had recently taken a 15 percent reduction in his $400,000 salary at the Cleveland museum, which, like others, has struggled with a downturn in the market value of its endowment.

Rub joins the museum on the heels of its winning a Golden Lion for best national pavilion in the prestigious Venice Biennale; as it is dealing with a financial contraction that has led to layoffs and program reductions; and while it continues to plan and raise money for an extensive restoration and expansion.

And yet, though a scheme by the Frank Gehry firm for new architectural features and a substantial reorganization of exhibition spaces is well under way, Rub said he expected to have an impact on the project and how it fits into the museum's broad-brush strategy.

"My understanding of the long-range plan is that the current one was prepared a few years ago, and it won't be too long before we sit down and revisit that," he said. "There's a lot that's already firmly in place, and it's the job of a director to guide things. While the general direction is clear, there is a great deal of latitude for a director and an important role to play in that."

Architectural projects are familiar ground for Rub, not only because of the recent work by Rafael Viñoly's firm at the Cleveland Museum, but also because of his own background. Before becoming a museum director 18 years ago, his areas of scholarly pursuit were architectural history and modern and contemporary art.

He received a bachelor's degree in art history from Middlebury College in Vermont; a master's in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University; and a master's in public and private management from Yale University. Before Cleveland, he was, for six years, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and before that, from 1991 to 1999, director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College.

One of his major achievements at Cincinnati was the elimination of admission fees, a decision made possible with funding from a special grant. The Cleveland Museum of Art is also free, while the Philadelphia Museum of Art this week will raise its admission by $2 to $16 for adults and reduce its pay-what-you-will Sundays to one a month.

Rub also has worked as a curator - at New York's Cooper Hewitt Museum, from 1983 to 1987, where he organized a highly praised exhibition on the work of Joseph Urban, the multifaceted Vienna-born architect and designer of theatrical sets, furniture, and decorative objects.

His sympathies, Sachs predicted, will make him a good fit with the culture of the Philadelphia museum.

"I think it will turn out that he will be the curators' first choice in terms of an ability to understand their needs and match them with realities. In that respect, Anne made everyone feel good about what they were doing, and I am convinced he will do that - which for me is very important."

Rub says that while he no longer is an active curator, he feels his role as director includes the development of exhibitions.

"My own preference, particularly with exhibitions and installations, is to get involved early on in the conceptual level - what is it about? What will it contribute to the field? How can we make it engaging to the public? What do we want to come out of it with in terms of research and publications? - to help shape the scope and character of the project early on. And to make sure it has the resources it needs."

On that last point - raising money - Rub says the "key for me has always been: Are you passionate about what you are asking people to support? If you believe in the thing you are talking to people about helping, whether it is education or an acquisition or the fabric of the building, people are going to be moved by the passion and the value they perceive to the community and the mission of the institution."

Two Museums: Key Facts

Founded

Philadelphia Museum of Art: 1877

Cleveland Museum of Art: 1916

Operating Budget

PMA: $56.7 million

CMA: $33.6 million

Objects in Collection

PMA: 225,000

CMA: 43,000

Annual Visitors

PMA: 978,000*

CMA: 500,000**

Endowment

PMA: $347 million***

CMA: $737 million

Employees

PMA: 434

CMA: 312

*year ending June 30, 2008

**five-year average (excluding time when museum was closed for renovations).

***As of June 30, 2008

SOURCES: Annual reports, press officers at each institution.EndText

Timothy Rub

Born: March 9, 1952, in New York City; moved to Westfield, N.J., at age 7.

Education: B.A. in art history, Middlebury College; master's in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University; master's in public and private management from Yale University; Harvard Program for Art Museum Directors, 1997-98.

Experience: Director and CEO, Cleveland Museum of Art, 2006-09; director, Cincinnati Art Museum, 2000-06; director, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 1991-99; curator, Cooper Hewitt Museum, 1983-87.

Specialization: Architecture and modern and contemporary art.

Other love: Music; studied violin for more than a decade.

Family: Married to graphic designer Sally Rub; children Peter, 23, and Katherine, 19.

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A Few of Rub's Favorite Philadelphia Things ...

"The great Roger van der Weyden Crucifixion in the Johnson Collection . . . remains one of my favorite paintings in any collection in this country and still moves me deeply whenever I see it.

"Cezanne's great Bathers and Renoir's Large Bathers are both, although in very different ways, exceptional works and landmarks in the careers of these two painters.

"I also never fail to to go to that great chapellike space in which the museum's incomparable holdings of Brancusi's sculpture are shown in conjunction with the many wonderful paintings by Mondrian in the PMA's collection.

"I could also mention a number of American paintings, including the many great paintings by Eakins and Charles Willson Peale that are in the collection.

"In citing just these few things, I am not, of course, being fair to the many other areas of the collection - American decorative arts, Asian art, prints and drawings, to cite just a few - that are also extraordinarily rich and deep."

- Timothy Rub

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Contact culture writer Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.