Art Market

Beatrix Ruf Resigns from Stedelijk Museum amid Controversy

Isaac Kaplan
Oct 17, 2017 10:09PM

Portrait of Beatrix Ruf by Robin de Puy. Courtesy of the artist.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Beatrix Ruf resigned as director of Amsterdam’s influential Stedelijk Museum on Tuesday amid allegations of conflicts of interest. The allegations stem from Ruf’s operation of a private art advisory service while serving as director and the terms attached to a major donation to the institution that she secured in 2016.

Ruf’s resignation comes less than two weeks after a pair of investigations were published by the Dutch daily NRC. The first centered on Thomas Borgmann’s 2016 gift of 600 works and the long-term loan of 10 pieces to the museum. Among other allegations, the paper found that the donation came at a steep price for the Stedelijk.

As part of the contract that secured Borgmann’s donation, the museum purchased seven works from the collector—six by German artist Michael Krebber for €125,000 each and one installation by American Matt Mullican for €750,000, bringing the total cost associated with the gift to €1.5 million. The paper said that these prices were high when compared to the auction records fetched by both artists. Krebber has sold one piece at auction for more than €125,000 previously, with two other works selling for above €100,000; Mullican’s auction record is £30,000, set by a roughly six-by-eight foot canvas in 2012.

Additionally, NRC reported, the museum agreed to pay €250,000 if it failed to exhibit Borgmann’s collection for two months and to produce a catalog. On November 26th, a “large number” of pieces from the collection will go on view at the museum until early April.

In a statement provided to the New York Times, the Stedelijk said that all agreements regarding Borgmann’s collection “were thoroughly scrutinized at the time, and subsequently approved,” with the entire process carried out in accordance with “usual procedures with regard to transparency.”

Days after publishing its initial investigation, the NRC further reported that Ruf earned €437,306 in 2015 from her private art advisory company Currentmatters, citing figures from the Swiss chamber of commerce. The Stedelijk’s annual report from the same year, which specifically provides a space for the museum to disclose its director’s activities outside of her employment with the museum, includes no reference to Currentmatters, which is registered in Switzerland, or any income she derived from it.

Amsterdam politician Marcel van den Heuvel is cited by the NRC as expressing doubt that Ruf could have spare time outside her full-time job at the Stedelijk to manage her art advisory company. She has also been an “active” part of the publishing house helmed by Swiss collector Michael Ringier, according to reports. That position was also absent from the museum’s report due to an administrative error, according to a statement reportedly provided to the NRC by the Stedelijk Museum.

The Stedelijk did not immediately respond to Artsy’s request for comment. However, a statement posted on its website cites “speculations in the media over the past weeks that may have an impact on the Stedelijk’s reputation” as reason for Ruf’s departure. It does not address the reports in detail.

The statement did, however, announce that the museum’s Supervisory Board, which was responsible for overseeing Ruf, has commissioned “an external, independent Governance expert” to review the the board’s oversight and “monitoring mechanisms.” The review will make recommendations for structural changes if it deems any are needed.

The Stedelijk’s Supervisory Board also commissioned an employment law professor to “evaluate whether the museum acted in compliance with the Dutch Executives’ Pay Standards Act,” which caps the pay of senior officials in the public and semi-public sphere at €181,000 per year.

The findings of both reports will be made available to the public.

Ruf is frequently cited as among the contemporary art world’s most influential players and served as the director and chief curator of the Kunsthalle Zürich for nearly 12 years before taking up her post at the Stedelijk. In her resignation Tuesday, Ruf defended her tenure, which saw strong attendance for exhibitions of artists including Isa Genzken and Avery Singer and which earned Ruf the Agnes Gund Curatorial Award.

“We brought extraordinary collections to Amsterdam and significantly deepened our relevance to society and our communities,” she wrote in the statement posted on Tuesday morning. “I value the interests of this outstanding institution, and place the interests of the Stedelijk first, above my own, individual concerns. In light of that, I feel that this is an appropriate moment for me to step down.”

Despite this, Ruf’s sudden departure has shocked some in Amsterdam’s art world.

“This is totally falling out of the blue,” said Annet Gelink, a prominent Amsterdam gallerist. She was still trying to process the reports about Ruf, whose tenure at the museum she said seemed to be going well. Now, the institution, with its international stature and importance to the local art scene, has been left without its star director and with an uncertain future.

“It’s a really sad situation,” said Gelink.

Isaac Kaplan