Art Market

Curators at the Guggenheim Museum called on leaders to reform a culture that “enables racism.”

Daria Simone Harper
Jun 23, 2020 5:01PM, via New York Times

The Guggenheim Museum. Image via Flickr.

The curatorial department of the Guggenheim Museum issued a letter to the museum’s leadership on Monday calling for more diversity and equitable practices within their work environment. According to the New York Times, the staff members, whose names were kept anonymous for fear of retribution, described “an inequitable work environment that enables racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.”

The letter—which was 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—comes as cultural institutions around the world are being urged to examine and address their role in perpetuating racism and inequity.

Armstrong told the New York Times:

Our curatorial staff is essential to the Guggenheim and we are listening. 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.

After receiving the letter, Armstrong began meeting with some of the museum’s 22 curators on Monday via Zoom. A Guggenheim spokeswoman confirmed that Spector, the chief curator, will take a three-month sabbatical beginning July 1st, though it is unclear whether there is any correlation between this decision and the letter. The Guggenheim currently employs 276 full time staff members, of which 26 are Black; 24 are Latino; and 20 are Asian.

The letter from the Guggenheim curators also demands that the museum conduct an independent investigation into its 2019 Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition and its treatment of the show’s guest curator, Chaédria LaBouvier. LaBouvier, an art historian, was the first Black woman ever to curate an exhibition at the Guggenheim, however she was not invited to participate in a panel related to the show, and was left out of decisions regarding the exhibition’s presentation.

Sparked largely by protests over the killing of George Floyd in May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and various other cultural institutions have recently received criticism for their positions in upholding white supremacy. Last week, staff members at New York’s Jewish Museum issued an open letter to museum director Claudia Gould calling for increased diversity within the museum. Meanwhile, the American Museum of Natural History announced it would remove the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt from its entrance.

Further Reading: Museums Are Becoming More Diverse, but There’s Still Work to Do

Daria Simone Harper