In Milan, Miart Returns, With Its New Director Doing Everything—Including Sending Poetry—to Lure Galleries. Here’s How It’s Going

For Milan’s art scene, the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Miart is an important event. In a city that was hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the return of the fair has reignited the Italian and specifically Milanese art market with a palpable sense of excitement. Still, Miart’s timing just one week before Art Basel brings its own problems, with several dealers scrambling to do both fairs. Some galleries including Hauser & Wirth, Thaddaeus Ropac, Massimo De Carlo, and Marian Goodman have withdrawn.

In addition to being the first art fair taking place in Milan since Miart’s last edition back in April 2019, this is also the first under new artistic director Nicola Ricciardi, former director of Turin’s art-and-innovation hub Officine Grandi Riparazioni. Held September 17-19 at Milano Convention Centre, it assembles 142 exhibitors, mostly Italian, down from 179 pre-pandemic.

“It’s been extremely challenging to take on the fair in this context, given the earthquake and breakdown of communication between fairs and galleries,” Ricciardi tells Midnight Publishing Group News. “My job was to rebuild the trust of the galleries and dismantle the silence, so in my first two months I called 200 blue-chip and emerging galleries. We decided not to give them a discount but do a smaller fair whilst keeping the same quality before reverting back to April next year.”

While most visitors are Italian, Ricciardi says that “20 American visitors are coming this weekend.”

To “break the silence,” Ricciardi started emailing poems to cultural players. The level of reciprocity inspired him to launch the project “Starry Worlds,” inviting artists having exhibitions in Milan to send verses of their favorite poems that are displayed on screens in the fair’s lounges. “Maurizio Cattelan sent me verses from a Kurdish poet and Simon Fujiwara sent me verses from Shakespeare,” he says.

Opening of Miart 2021. Photo by Paolo Valentini.

Opening of Miart 2021. Photo by Paolo Valentini.

A Packed Calendar

Returning to the newly intense September calendar is a wake-up call for galleries doing Miart and Art Basel back-to-back. “Last year we slowed down a lot but now we’re back in the rhythm of fairs,” says Paola Potena at Lia Rumma, which sold a sculpture by William Kentridge, $250,000-350,000, and a painting by Ettore Spalletti, €120,000, at the opening.

Several dealers echoed this sentiment. “It’s hard for our team and half of us have to leave at the weekend to set up the booth at Art Basel,” laments Astrid Welter, director of Kaufmann Repetto. The gallery is presenting a solo show on Adrian Paci, including paintings (one of which has sold for €20,000) and photography, to coincide with the unveiling of his public sculpture commissioned by ArtLine Milano in the city’s sculpture park on Saturday.

William Kentridge, <em>Processione di Riparazionisti</em> (2019). Photo © Roberto Marossi, Courtesy Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan/Naples.

William Kentridge, Processione di Riparazionisti (2019). Photo © Roberto Marossi, Courtesy Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan/Naples.

Nonetheless, exhibitors are pleased to be back in the swing of things. “It’s not easy, but we have the enthusiasm and adrenaline to do the fairs, and a physical presence is an essential element of our job,” says Michele Casamonti, director of Tornabuoni, which has sold works by Emilio Isgrò, €300,000-400,000, Alighiero Boetti, €100,000, and Mimmo Paladino, €200,000-300,000. “It’s courageous that Miart is doing two fairs in six months.”

The September calendar’s change of pace suggests the adaptability required by galleries during the pandemic. “For the last 18 months, we’ve had to adapt and readapt constantly and nobody knows when this situation will really end,” muses Patrice Cotensin, director of Galerie Lelong (Paris/New York), which has sold a 1970s photograph by David Hockney for €15,000. “We have a lot of Italian clients and everybody is pleased to see each other again,” Cortensin adds.

After a year of online viewing rooms, some galleries are racing around to exhibit in numerous fairs this fall. Miart is one of six in which Galleria Continua is participating, along with Art Paris, Art Shenzhen, Frieze, FIAC, and Artissima. “Our strength is that we are also local galleries, although we have international artists, as we have physical spaces in several cities,” says director Mario Cristiani, who has sold works by Loris Cecchini (€40,000) and Osvaldo González (€6,000). “Now it’s easier to do national rather than international fairs as the local [market] is becoming more important than before.”

Mary Ellen, <em>Because. (DIRTIER THAN STRONG) </em>(1999). © 1999 Mary Ellen Carroll/ MEC studios.Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hubert Winter. Miart 2021, installation view, photo by Paolo Valentini.

Mary Ellen, Because. (DIRTIER THAN STRONG) (1999). © 1999 Mary Ellen Carroll/ MEC studios.Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hubert Winter. Miart 2021, installation view, photo by Paolo Valentini.

The Allure of Milan

Certainly, Milanese collectors attended the buzzy preview in droves. Comparing Miart to more international fairs, Franco Calarota, director of Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, remarks, “There’s a fundamental difference between this and other fairs: Milanese collectors take taxis to come here. They don’t need to catch a plane.”

While Miart is missing some of the mega galleries, this edition marks the return of Franco Noero, which has devoted its booth to Lara Favaretto. “Normally Miart clashes with SP-Arte in Brazil in April so we were unable to come for the last few previous editions,” the gallery’s Pierpaolo Falone explains.

Francesca Gabbiani, <em>Surfette 18 (Kassia)</em> (2021). Courtesy Monica De Cardenas, Milan/Zuoz/Lugano.

Francesca Gabbiani, Surfette 18 (Kassia) (2021). Courtesy Monica De Cardenas, Milan/Zuoz/Lugano.

The calendar saturation has led some galleries to opt for Miart over Art Basel. “We prefer to support our city and not travel at the moment,” says Monica de Cardenas, whose gallery has sold works by Francesca Gabbiani (for €5,000), Gideon Rubin, and Zilla Leutenegger.

“Normally we participate in Liste but we’re not doing it this year as we’re waiting to enter the main fair,” says Lodovico Corsini, director of Clearing (Brussels/New York). At Miart, the gallery has a solo presentation on Marguerite Humeau (including sculptures, €28,000-48,000, and paintings, €25,000, inspired by the vegetal world), ahead of her sculpture commission for Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Art Park in Guarene, which will be inaugurated next month.

Marguerite Humeau, <em>Lunaria, the feeling that you might be witnessing the birth of new universes as you are staring at the starry skies on a very dark summer night</em> (2021). Photo © Benjamin Baltus. Courtesy of the artist and Clearing, New York/ Brussels.

Marguerite Humeau, Lunaria, the feeling that you might be witnessing the birth of new universes as you are staring at the starry skies on a very dark summer night (2021). Photo © Benjamin Baltus. Courtesy of the artist and Clearing, New York/ Brussels.

Some exhibitors see an advantage in Miart and Art Basel taking place one week apart. “It’s good that they’re very close because clients that do both can travel from one to the other,” says Pietro Sforza, London sales director of Robilant + Voena, which has sold works by Arnaldo Pomodoro, €30,000, and by Gilberto Zorio, €150,000. The gallery, however, is not participating in Art Basel.

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As the Met Prepares an Action-Packed Fall Season, Museum Director Max Hollein Talks Deaccessioning, NFTs, and Chuck Close

The Art Detective is a weekly column by Katya Kazakina for Midnight Publishing Group News Pro that lifts the curtain on what’s really going on in the art market.


The 12-foot-tall statue of Athena Parthenos has been a silent witness at the entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the past five years. It greeted millions of visitors in the Great Hall, waited for them to return during months of mandatory lockdowns, and welcomed them back when the museum reopened a year ago.

This week, the marble goddess of wisdom from 170 B.C. was dismantled in order to be sent back home to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. In her place, two ancient Maya stone monuments, known as stelae, were erected. Lent by the Republic of Guatemala, they are life-size replicas of the ancient indigenous American rulers K’inich Yo’nal Ahk II and Queen Ix Wak Jalam Chan (Lady Six Sky). 

A newly installed Maya stone monument at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. © Metropolitan Museum of Art 2019, photography Wilson Santiago.

A newly installed Maya stone monument at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. © Metropolitan Museum of Art 2021, photography Wilson Santiago.

At a press conference on September 2, Max Hollein, the Met’s director, shared the spotlight with Guatemala’s minister of culture and sports. Hollein, 52, an Austrian art historian who has been at the helm of America’s largest museum since 2018, spoke of the privilege to share “these treasures with the thousands of visitors who walk through the museum’s door every day.” He invited New Yorkers “who come from the region to connect with the rich histories” and evoked “the greatness achieved by ancient Indigenous artists.”

The Met’s leadership says that the 8th-century limestone monuments—one 6.5 feet tall, the other, 9 feet tall—represent a broader transformation that’s been happening at the museum in recent years. There have been challenges, too, from a spate of high-profile curatorial departures to a $150 million revenue shortfall that the museum plans to address in part through controversial deaccessioning. (That process is progressing, we reveal, with the help of a high-profile market figure). 

Earlier this week, I caught up with Hollein to take stock of the past 18 months and what is in store for the nation’s most closely watched art institution. 

Felipe Aguilar, Guatemala's Minister of Culture and Sports, at left, and Max Hollein. © Metropolitan Museum of Art 2019, photography Wilson Santiago.

Felipe Aguilar, Guatemala’s Minister of Culture and Sports, at left, and Max Hollein. © Metropolitan Museum of Art 2021, photography Wilson Santiago.

Athena is gone and Lady Six Sky has entered the Great Hall. What was the impetus to replace the Greek goddess with an ancient Maya queen? 

Athena was a loan from Berlin, and it needed to go back at some point, so we felt now was the time to make that change. It was important for us to show in the Great Hall not only the Greek and Roman manifestation as a birthplace of culture, but also Mesoamerica.

The two stelae are, in a sense, great signals and ambassadors for what is happening at the Met in the next couple of years. There’s a major show that we are preparing on Mayan culture, but maybe more importantly, the transformation and complete renewal of the Rockefeller wing, which holds very important collections of objects from Mesoamerica.

With the ongoing reckoning over race and inequality, what’s the role of an encyclopedic museum such as the Met?

This is a major topic for us. The Met, like any other museum of a similar size or scope, has history embedded in the institution. We saw in the last 18 months, through Black Lives Matter, a new reckoning with history in America, in a way that probably America, in that context, has not experienced before. And we have to be part of that by scrutinizing our own history, our own institutional biases. If you come to the museum right now, we have re-installed the mezzanine floor that we use for the contemporary collection. You will see recent acquisitions from the last probably three years; there’s a significant diversity of artists, with a significant number of Black artists represented. It’s been a priority for the institution. 

Beyond programming, there’s the question of how we make sure that the institution as a whole can become more diverse and welcoming. That means whom we hire, what kind of positions we develop. In the curatorial area, we hired our first curator for Indigenous art. We established a position of chief diversity officer. 

People walk through galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

People walk through galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Met has now been open for a year at reduced capacity. How has the pandemic affected your programming? 

When we were able to reopen, it was important for us to create an environment where our visitors feel safe, where our staff feels safe, but also to provide a very welcoming and decisive experience, especially for the New Yorkers, because at that time that was really our audience.  

We made the decision not to say, “Well, if only half of the people can visit us, if we don’t have any tourists, we want to only have a reduced program.”

If you think about the Jacob Lawrence show, “Making the Met,” the Costume Institute, the facade commission… just recently we had Alice Neel. We want to make sure that we aren’t doing exhibitions just because things look beautiful, but because they are bringing you into a more complex understanding of the world. Our shows are becoming more charged, more loaded, filled with different opinions, broader discourse. Like the Medici show [“The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570”], [which presents] a correlation between art and art-making in propaganda.

What about the shows that are coming up?

The Costume Institute’s show, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” is a survey of American fashion based on the quote by Jesse Jackson from the Democratic Convention that America is not the blanket one piece, but a patchwork of many different colors and textures.

“Surrealism Beyond Borders” is an enormously important exhibition this fall. It will show that Surrealism is actually the one “ism” that went totally global as a style and lasted until now. 

And then we will have an exhibition on Walt Disney and his relationship with the decorative arts. We’ll see how much the American audience encountered French decorative arts through the lens of Disney. 

We are also going to present our initiative to create a period room of our time. It will focus on the theme of Afrofuturism. If you look at our period rooms, our most current one is Frank Lloyd Wright, from the early 20th century. So it’s going to be an interesting transformation of our period room program. 

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 27: People wearing face masks visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art as it reopens to members after the pandemic closure, on August 27, 2020 in New York City, NY. (Photo by Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images)

PeopleVisitors in line for the Alice Neel show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on August 27, 2020. (Photo by Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images)

I remember the long, long line of people waiting to get into the Alice Neel show earlier this year. You had limited attendance to maintain social distancing. It was such an eye-opening exhibition, perfectly pitched and a discovery of an incredible, creative life.  How was the attendance?

It was our biggest show in terms of the attendance in the past year. I think it was 179,000 people. There was a big rush at the end. It really resonated with the times and with New York audiences. It showed you not only one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, but also the artist as an activist. 

Did you have an inkling it would be a blockbuster? And how has the concept of a blockbuster show changed during the pandemic?  

I don’t like the term “blockbuster show.” I think that what we are doing is very ambitious shows that ideally reach the widest possible audience. I don’t think you would have labeled [Alice Neel] a blockbuster show, even though it was our most popular show of the year. 

We do close to 50 shows a year—some bigger, some smaller. Each of them is an outcome not only of our scholarly work, but also of our perspective on what’s relevant right now, what is important to understand. Our projections of how many people can visit make no difference in regard to whether this is an urgent or important show. 

Banner for "Alice Neel: People Come First" outside the Metropolitan Museum. Photo by Ben Davis.

Banner for “Alice Neel: People Come First” outside the Metropolitan Museum. Photo by Ben Davis.

Several prominent curators left the museum this year. Keith Christiansen, chairman of the Department of European Paintings, just retired. Then there’s Helen Evans, a longtime curator of dazzling Byzantine shows, and most recently, “Armenia!” and Doug Eklund, who organized the groundbreaking “Pictures Generation” show in 2009. Is this a generational shift, or house cleaning?

We have about 140 curators, and, more often than not, a lot of them stay at the museum for a long time, which is great. Of course, it’s important for an institution to move people within the institution—up and forward. And basically, that’s what’s happening. 

Keith, as you know, did the great Medici show and then retired. He had a long, long career and was planning to retire. And then Doug made a conscious decision that he wants to move on. But I don’t see any of that being connected with any kind of transformation or change. It’s an evolutionary process.  

The Met's Modern and contemporary galleries. From left to right: Amy Sherald, <i>When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be (Self-imagined atlas)</i> (2018); K.G. Subramanyan, <i>Studio Table With Figure I</i> (1965); Kerry James Marshall, <i>Untitled (Studio</i> (2014); Stanley Whitney, <i>Fly the Wild</i> (2017); Center vitrine: Ron Nagle, <i>Watermelon</i> (1983); <i>Contessa</i> (1983); <i>Untitled</i> (1991). Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met’s Modern and contemporary galleries. From left to right: Amy Sherald, When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be (Self-imagined atlas) (2018); K.G. Subramanyan, Studio Table With Figure I (1965); Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Studio (2014); Stanley Whitney, Fly the Wild (2017); Center vitrine: Ron Nagle, Watermelon (1983); Contessa (1983); Untitled (1991). Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met has an active acquisition program. But it is also planning to deaccession art, taking advantage of the two-year window, through April 2022, during which the Association of Art Museum Directors has permitted members to sell art in order to raise money for collection care as opposed to only for acquisitions. Can you fill me in on the latest about your deaccessioning plans?

I have to say one thing just to avoid any misunderstanding. We are not intending to sell any works to create [acquisition] funds to acquire new [artwork]. We have significant endowment funds that are earmarked just for acquisitions. During the pandemic, when the AAMD loosened the guidelines, it’s useful for any institution to consider—in our case, not only because our collection is so vast, but because even in a year when we might have a significant operational budget deficit, we still have significant funds with which to acquire art through our endowments. So it seems appropriate to use the proceeds of our regular deaccession program to support salaries for collection care staff in this exceptional year. And that’s what we are doing. 

The Met is projecting a $150 million revenue shortfall over two years. Are you planning to sell $150 million worth of art?  

No, no! The magnitude of our deaccessioning program differs from year to year, but it’s around $10 million. The works we use for deaccessioning are duplicates, multiples, copies of the same thing [we have] in better quality. We have identified a couple of the works.  

Can you tell me which works you’ve identified?

No, we will announce that as part of the process. It’s going to be a normal process and normal object selection.

Installation view of The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570, on view June 26–October 11, 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Met

Installation view of The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570, on view June 26–October 11, 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Met

I heard that one of the people who is advising you on the deaccessioning is Tobias Meyer, a private art dealer and former star auctioneer at Sotheby’s, whose clients include billionaire collectors Ken Griffin and David Geffen.

In every acquisition and deaccessioning, we use the best expertise that we have and we can get. Tobias is not only someone who is engaged with the museum on multiple fronts, but we use his expertise in different ways. He’s on the visiting committee for European sculpture and painting and has been a donor of work, helpful in identifying the works we might want to acquire, and also advising on the works we might consider for deaccessioning.

NFTs have been such a big story this year, in terms of the technology’s impact on the market, art community, and artistic production. Will the Met be minting NFTs anytime soon or adding them to its collection?   

It’s an interesting development, but it’s not our role to be the first emergency responder to the newest trends in art and society. We’ll see where that develops, and at some point, I’m sure there will be a work that could be part of the Met’s collection. But currently there’s nothing on the horizon for us. And we are not creating any NFTs. 

The underlying blockchain technology is something that will transform a lot of areas: how we do business, how we create authentication records, and probably also provenance, databases, et cetera. So, in that sense, blockchain technology is extremely relevant and important for us.

Chuck Close, Lou Reed from his "Subway Portraits" at the 86th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Chuck Close, Lou Reed from his “Subway Portraits” at the 86th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Let’s talk about the low-tech stuff, like wall text. Artist Chuck Close died two weeks ago. He spent the final years in the shadow of sexual harassment allegations. The Met owns many of his paintings. None are on view at the moment. Do you plan to show his work again, and will the wall text reflect the accusations? 

Our Chuck Close portrait of artist Lucas Samaras has been hanging for the last couple of years [until March]. You do need to make a differentiation between the artwork and the life of an artist. Where these two get completely intertwined, it’s important to acknowledge the complexities. 

I don’t want to only talk about Chuck Close, but in general the idea that you can only look at an artist’s work where the life of the artist is impeccable seems absurd. It would be a really complex way to look at it.

We love seeing Caravaggio’s work; it’s so powerful and extreme. On the other hand, of course, he was a convicted murderer and had to flee from [Rome]. So, one has to be very careful. If the artwork came into existence or is part of the allegation or misdeed, then you have a different situation. But if you have a portrait by Chuck Close of Richard Serra then it’s different. 

And changing the subject a bit, it is on the other hand also really important that the artwork itself can be disruptive and challenging, even morally challenging. I keep using the example of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Salo because it really shook me when I first saw it. It deals with fascism on the level that no other work does. And, of course, Pasolini led a complex life. But I think it’s an absolute masterpiece that needs to be shown. 

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L.A. MOCA Names Johanna Burton Executive Director, Creating a New Position That Splits Duties With Klaus Biesenbach

Johanna Burton, a high-profile curator who has held leadership positions at a number of major institutions, has been named the new executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.  

Burton will share leadership duties with Klaus Biesenbach, who, in February was unceremoniously removed from his post as director and instead made artistic director, tasked with handling the museum’s programming, collections, and exhibitions. At the same time, the museum’s board of trustees commenced a search for someone to fill the newly-created position of executive director, responsible for the “overall management and operations of the museum,” according to an internal letter reviewed by Midnight Publishing Group News

Burton will assume her new role November 1, 2021. Both she and Biesenbach will report to the board.

“It’s thrilling to join MOCA’s team at this historic moment,” Burton said in a statement. “MOCA’s artist-centered mission dovetails with my own commitment to creating platforms that foster artistic innovation and emphasize deep connections to audiences.” 

“I’m excited to work closely with Klaus on visioning the next era of MOCA,” she went on, “listening closely to our staff and communities, while bringing the museum’s structures into ever-more vibrant alignment with the museum’s values.”

Long seen as a rising star in the museum-executive ranks, Burton comes to MOCA from the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, where she has served as executive director since 2019. Prior to that, her CV included such gigs as the Keith Haring Director and curator of education and public engagement at the New Museum in New York; director of the graduate program at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies; and associate director of the Whitney Independent Study Program. Her curatorial credits include major exhibitions of Sherrie Levine, Haim Steinbach, Simone Leigh, and several shows exploring gender and identity. 

MOCA LA’s announcement praised Burton for her engagement with education and inclusivity, as well as a “long-term commitment to the kind of institution-building that is essential today.” 

“Her hallmark is implementing more horizontal institutional structures to support professional development and advancement of staff, as well as community engagement, always prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and access,” the brief read.

While it’s not clear what Burton meant by the phrase “historic moment” in today’s statement, it’s tempting to read it as a coded reference to the many—often sudden—executive-level shake-ups that have roiled the museum over the last 13 years. 

When Biesenbach was brought on in 2018, he became the fourth director to lead the museum since 2009. His two most recent predecessors, Philippe Vergne (who led MOCA from 2014 to 2018) and Jeffrey Deitch (2010 to 2013), both departed amid swarms of controversy after firing their chief curators—Helen Molesworth and Paul Schimmel, respectively.

In 2008, the museum teetered on the brink of financial collapse—and even came close to merging with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—before being rescued by a $30 million bailout from philanthropist Eli Broad. The director at the time, Jeremy Strick, was largely blamed for the institution’s precarious position and agreed to resign as part of the deal.  

Biesenbach’s short tenure atop the org chart was similarly marred by strife, albeit for reasons largely outside of his control. With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 and the ensuing lockdowns, MOCA furloughed or reduced the salary of 69 full-time employees and laid off 97 part-timers.

“I am excited to have such a strong partner in Johanna and eagerly look forward to collaborating with her,” Biesenbach. “I have great respect for the integrity, perspective, and expertise Johanna will bring to our collective work serving MOCA’s team, constituencies, and artists, its increasingly large and diverse public, and all residents of Los Angeles.”

In addition to Burton’s hire, MOCA’s year has also been notable for a couple of key departures. Mia Locks, who had served as senior curator and head of hew initiatives, resigned in March, citing the institution’s failure to embrace diversity and inclusion efforts, while human resources director Carlos Viramontes left in February, terming the museum a “hostile” environment.

But even today’s news arrived with a pinch of controversy: Prior to the official announcement of Burton’s hiring, MOCA LA sent out an embargoed press release laden with bizarre demands about how the story should be reported by media outlets. Rather than writing about the hiring, Christopher Knight, art critic for the LA Times, lambasted the museum for trying to control the narrative.  

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ICA London Director Stefan Kalmár on How British Politics—and Right-Wing Attacks—Sparked His Departure From the Museum

Stefan Kalmár, the first-ever non-British head of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, is stepping down from the role after five years.

Kalmár, who said there should be fixed term limits for museum heads, said he was also leaving over concerns of the effects of Brexit, and increased government oversight at museums.

“What’s happening in the U.K. is worrying,” Kalmár told Midnight Publishing Group News. “The historic arm’s-length principle between the government and cultural institutions that it directly funds… [is] being undermined.”

Kalmár said the museum was subject to several “rightwing complaints” during his tenure, in which some claimed it was acting as a political entity.

“My favorite quote from one particular critic was: ‘Promoting anal sex and polyamory to fight Nazism is just another day’s work for the ICA’s press department,’” he said.

His biggest concern for the future of museums is that they can become too dependent on a director’s financial connections.

“One runs [into the] danger that the director becomes indispensable as the financial health of the organization relies on them,” he said. (The ICA gets 21 percent of its budget from the government.)

The Institute of Contemporary Arts London. Photo by Rob Battersby.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts London. Photo by Rob Battersby.

“It seems strange that while public offices are—for good reasons—often termed, leading public cultural institutions are less so,” Kalmár said, noting that he believes that turnover in leadership roles is essential to a museum’s growth.

The ICA reopened on July 6 after having been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic. But while the challenges presented during lockdown were significant, the situation also led Kalmár to reflect on the institution’s goals, particularly in light of conversations regarding diversity and inclusion.

“If problems are structural, then change must also be structural,” Kalmár said. “Unfortunately, organizations of this size and scale adapt—rightly or wrongly—too slowly. Or at least, too slowly for me.”

Kalmár also said personal reasons led him to his departure.

Former American soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning poses ahead of her talk at the Institute Of Contemporary Arts London in 2018. Photo by Jack Taylor, Getty Images.

Former American soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning poses ahead of her talk at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London in 2018. Photo by Jack Taylor, Getty Images.

“My own biography as a son of a Hungarian immigrant to West Germany has been defined by borders,” Kalmár said. “As a child growing up in East Germany, I was not able to see my dad regularly for the first five years of my life, and it defined my belief that we must fight nationalism and racism wherever we come from, and wherever we live.”

During Kalmár’s tenure, the ICA held retrospectives for Kathy Acker, Julie Becker, and Seth Price, among others, and hosted speakers including whistle-blower-turned-activist Chelsea Manning and Spanish philosopher Paul Preciado.

Kalmár previously helmed New York’s Artists Space and the Kunstverein München in Munich.

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Philadelphia Museum of Art Director Timothy Rub Will Retire After a Series of Scandals and Staff Turmoil

Timothy Rub, the director and chief executive of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has announced that he will retire from his position early next year.

“It has been a great honor to serve as the director of one of this country’s finest art museums, and to play a role in strengthening its collections and programs as well as renewing our landmark main building to make it ready for another century of service to the community,” he said in a surprise statement to the museum’s staff and board of trustees on Friday.

The director’s last days atop the museum will come in January 2022. After that, he will stay on as a consultant until a new director has been put in place. (Rub will also serve as chief curator of the museum’s upcoming Sean Scully survey, set to open in April of next year.) 

The board has already commenced a search for Rub’s successor, according to the museum.

Rub, who previously served as director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, where he led a $350 million expansion, came to the Philadelphia Museum in 2009, following the death of previous director Anne d’Harnoncourt. In doing so, he inherited his predecessor’s own ambitious, $500 million renovation plan, put in place years before. 

In total, Rub, 69, has been with the museum for 13 years. But his tenure may well be remembered for the last two—a period of highs and lows at the institution marked by sexual harassment scandals, staff cuts, a contentious unionization effort, and the completion of a monumental Frank Gehry-designed expansion project.

The “core” phase of that project, a $233 million overhaul of the museum’s entrances and interior spaces, was unveiled this spring. It came at a time when the museum was in need of some positive press. 

Exterior of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Ben Davis.

Just over a year prior, in January 2020, an investigative report published in the New York Times found that Joshua Helmer, a former assistant director for interpretation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, had been accused of sexual harassment by at least three female employees between 2016 and 2018, when he resigned for reasons that have not been made public. 

Helmer went on to become the director of the Erie Art Museum, where additional harassment allegations came to light. He was pushed out of his role after the release of the Times report. 

The following month, the Philadelphia Museum of Art came under fire again, this time for allegedly protecting a retail employee who was accused of physically assaulting colleagues. And in May 2020, after workers at the museum launched a campaign to unionize, the institution responded by hiring an infamous union-busting law firm for the negotiations. 

The staff was ultimately successful in its effort, voting in August to form the first wall-to-wall museum union in the country. The decision came just two days after the Philadelphia institution downsized its staff by 23 percent, laying off more than 80 employees and reaching a separation agreement with 42 others.

“If I had to turn back the clock, I would have also recognized sooner that we needed to focus at the same time—and with equal vigor—on the museum’s internal culture,” Rub told the New York Times last week, on the occasion of his retirement announcement. “We’re doing that work now, and the museum will be better off for it.”

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