Thursday, September 27, 2007

Speculations Realized and Rumors Still Lingering

There was a great discussion a while back on Art World Salon (which is working on expanding its field of commenters, by the way) about the reasons we see such large number of vacancies among the top positions in American museums. As Marc Spiegler noted in the main post:
[I]t seems the problem lies in the way that the job has evolved through mission creep over the years. In addition to the classic connoisseurship required, fund-raising and business skills have become a big part of the job, as has the ability to deal with major construction projects and foreign governments. [...] So it seems today’s ideal museum-director candidate would have a PhD in Art History, an MBA, plus several years of Foreign Service and corporate experience under the belt. It’s a tall order, which may explain why it’s so frequently found to be difficult to fulfill, especially outside the top institutions. [...] perhaps it’s time to widen the notion of how museums are led: Splitting the job into business and art functions, rather than desperately seeking candidates combining all the skills required in the modern museum era and paralyzing the institution until the ideal candidate surfaces.
If Marc ever suggests he knows tomorrows lottery numbers, you might want to invest a stack of cash on his picks. From today's New York Times:
In a move that seems likely to shake up its contemporary art programming, the Museum of Modern Art has hired Kathy Halbreich, the adventurous director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as an associate director.

Ms. Halbreich, who said in March that she was retiring from the Walker, will work with the Modern’s curators on innovative programs crossing a range of disciplines and keep the museum abreast of developments in contemporary art. Staff members were informed of her hiring yesterday, and she is expected to start work in February.

For months, rumors have been circulating that Ms. Halbreich, 58, was being courted to succeed Glenn D. Lowry, the Modern’s director for the past 12 years, or to take over from Alanna Heiss, the director of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens, which became an affiliate of the Modern in 1999.

But MoMA chose instead to create a position for Ms. Halbreich that will give her influence in organizing exhibitions, planning performances and making acquisitions without assuming directorial responsibilities like fund-raising or capital expansions.
The Times article continues to explain why this is great news for MoMA: the energy Ms. Halbreich is likely to breathe into its Contemporary programming gives us all reason to cheer. More than that, though, the timing of this split of responsibilities seems perfect given some of the rumors flying around about MoMA's future plans to expand significantly. Particularly in light of this notion:
Having just overseen a $73.8 million expansion at the Walker, Ms. Halbreich said she sympathized with the Modern as it endured harsh criticism about its newly expanded home. For one thing, she said, a capital project can be so consuming that it diverts energy from programming. “Buildings require so much intellectual and financial resources it is almost impossible to be ambitious artistically,” she said.
If the rumors are true, this move might ensure that any expansion project won't distract from the programming, which is good news for us.

Labels: art museums, directors, MoMA


Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

This isn't just a problem in the art world, but all over. I had a talk with a technology recruiter who told me how many companies have an employee who's been there for ten years. They started doing X, then picked up Y, then took over Z; and somewhere they learned A and B, too. Then they leave the company and the company goes looking for someone who can do X, Y, Z, A and B -- even though no other person on Earth has those exact qualifications. The companies tend to forget that it took them years to train the employee up to all those skills.

A good recruiter can talk some sense into the company's human resources department and get them to understand that they need to find someone to fill a couple of major requirements and then grow in the position. It's hard for a big company trying to fill a visible position, though, because they so badly want someone who can hit the ground running.

It's good to hear that MoMA might be doing the right thing here. I'm not there often enough to feel strongly one way or the other about their programming, but other more knowledgeable critics seem to think they need improvement, so hopefully this will be the start of that.

9/27/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

This does continue the trend toward specialization. But for an institution smaller than MoMA it means two large paychecks rather than one. I doubt this will be an industry standard except at the flagship institutions.

Regardless, I'm excited about the split. MoMA needs some energy. As often as I criticize it, I'd still love to see it succeed splendidly.

9/27/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

In Montreal I remember being quite happy to learn that Marc Mayer would become the new director of our own MOCA (MAC in french). He'd been moving in places when there had been spot-on exhibits being organized.

Then I realized to my dismay that not much was going to change in the programming of the MAC, because the real "deciders" as far as what exhibits were going to happen remain the same curators which are in place since over 20 years.

So now I sort of see the director position as a puppet position. I think it is the mid-positions that are marking to a museum, and these positions remain often protected from criticism somehow. Anything that happens to them is intern, and when the audience feels an urge to critic, they can either send it to direction or press department.

I just have this image that museum directors get pissed off to be sent back to financial order by whatever administrative committees,
while curators are having all the fun (and protection: in Canada at least there is no visible path to transmit a critic from viewer to committtee).

So to simplify, curator killed the director's job and no one wants it anymore. Unless you implied that curator jobs are also available, but hardly from where I come from.

Cedric Caspesyan

9/27/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, we have an empty slot and need a director at our MoCA Detroit. Anyone interested? (from a non-affiliated but interested MoCADetroit party) Detroit is the next IT...

9/27/2007 08:19:00 PM  

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