Guggenheim secures new president and second black female director

As the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum struggles to respond to accusations from its own ranks that this is an “unfair work environment that fosters racism,” the museum on Monday appointed a new president, billionaire collector J. Tomilson Hill, and elected his second black administrator, poet, playwright and essayist Claudia rankine.

“He is a prescient collector and a very gifted convener,” said Richard Armstrong, director of the museum, in a telephone interview. “I think he is very attached to the role of art in contemporary civilizations.”

Hill joined the board in 2019, the same year he opened the Hill Arts Foundation, a public exhibition and education space in Chelsea. He will become president of the Guggenheim on November 1, succeeding William L. Mack, who served for 16 years and was elected president emeritus.

“You have to go where your passion is,” Hill said in an interview, adding his was in modern and contemporary art. He and his wife, Janine – the director of fraternal affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations – are an in-depth collection of several artists, including Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin and Christopher Wool.

They also collect Renaissance and Baroque bronzes as well as paintings by Old Masters – Hill was the mysterious buyer of an early 17th century canvas presented as a masterpiece rediscovered by Caravaggio. (He also sits on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he has said he plans to stay.)

Hill, who from 2007 to 2018 was vice chairman of the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, said he was strongly committed to the Guggenheim’s efforts to “broaden the definition of how we think we show works. “.

“We’re going to increase the frequency of diverse artists,” he added, “where we can really put our leadership position behind innovation and show the art of lesser-known artists. “

Last year, a letter to the leadership of the Guggenheim signed “The Department of Conservation” demanded immediate and wholesale changes to what it described as “an inequitable work environment that allows for racism, white supremacy. and other discriminatory practices ”.

The museum subsequently approved a plan to deal with these complaints. He also conducted an independent investigation into the management of an exhibition on artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which was curated by a guest curator, Chaédria LaBouvier, whose treatment at the Guggenheim was mentioned in the letter.

The investigation found no evidence that LaBouvier, who is black, was abused because of her race, but Nancy Spector, the artistic director and chief curator who has been publicly criticized by LaBouvier, left simultaneously after 34 years. at the Museum.

Such commotion “gives you the opportunity to ask a lot of tough questions – many of which are uncomfortable,” said Hill, who previously served as president of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, and the Lincoln Center Theater. (He currently sits on the Advisory Board of Christie’s and the Investment Committee of the Smithsonian Institution; Forbes puts his net value to $ 2.7 billion.)

“The Guggenheim was not doing enough to embrace the notion of DCI,” Hill added, referring to diversity, equity and inclusion. “You have to set very aggressive goals for yourself. We have created a comprehensive game plan and we hold ourselves accountable. “

Additionally, the museum appointed Naomi Beckwith in January as its first black deputy director and chief curator. And in July he appointed Ty woodfolk as the first responsible for culture and inclusion.

Rankine is the second black woman to join the board of directors; the first was Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, photographer and widow of tennis champion Arthur Ashe, who served from 1993 to 1994.

Rankine is the author of five books of poetry, including “Citizen: An American Lyric” and “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric”; three pieces, including “Help”, which premiered in March 2020 at the Shed in New York; and a recent collection of essays, “Just Us: An American Conversation,” published by Graywolf Press.

“We all struggle with our history, and the history is within us and is racist and white supremacist and we know that,” Rankine said. “So the Guggenheim joins with all the other institutions in this country to update itself on the humanity of the people. “

Hill will also oversee the continued development of the museum’s long-delayed branch in Abu Dhabi, which last month announcement an opening date of 2025.

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