Posted on June 23, 2020

Curators Urge Guggenheim to Fix Culture That ‘Enables Racism’

Robin Pogrebin, New York Times, June 22, 2020

A letter signed “The Curatorial Department” of the Guggenheim Museum was sent Monday to the institution’s leadership, demanding immediate, wholesale changes to what it described as “an inequitable work environment that enables racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.”

“We write to express collective concern regarding our institution, which is in urgent need of reform,” said the letter addressed to Richard Armstrong, the museum’s director; Elizabeth Duggal, the senior deputy director and chief operating officer; Sarah G. Austrian, the general counsel; and Nancy Spector, the museum’s artistic director and chief curator.


The letter said it was not signed with individual names because the curators feared retaliation.

In a statement, Mr. Armstrong confirmed receipt of the letter from the curators “outlining requests to change procedures to ensure more collective, transparent and accountable decision-making processes in the department.”

“Our curatorial staff is essential to the Guggenheim and we are listening,” he said in the statement. “Their effort to make change is an opportunity for us to engage in a beneficial dialogue to become a more diverse, equitable and welcoming organization for all.”

Mr. Armstrong began that dialogue with some of the museum’s 22 curators on Monday in Zoom calls after receiving the letter, a museum spokeswoman confirmed. The spokeswoman, Sarah Eaton, also confirmed that the chief curator, Ms. Spector, has decided to take a three-month sabbatical beginning July 1, though there was no indication the decision was related to the letter.


On Sunday, Troy Conrad Therrien, the museum’s curator of architecture and digital initiatives, sent his own letter to the museum’s leadership in which he announced his plans to step down to take responsibility for what he described as his complicity in an “institutional culture that has systematically disenfranchised many for too long.”


The museum said it had not made a decision on Mr. Therrien’s offer to resign.

The Guggenheim, which attracts about 1.2 million visitors annually, has a $60 million budget and a $90 million endowment. Of the museum’s 276 full time staff members, 26 are black, 24 are Latino and 20 are Asian. Of the museum’s 25 trustees, 23 are white.

The curators’ letter calls on the museum to “put an end to the culture of favoritism, silencing, and retribution”; to review recruitment practices and guarantee the hiring of curators of color; and “to redress the museum’s primarily white, male exhibition history and collecting practices.”

The letter also calls for the museum to commission an independent investigation into its handling of last year’s Basquiat exhibition and the show’s guest curator, Chaédria LaBouvier, an art historian.