San Francisco Museum of Modern-day Artwork Names New Director

Barbara Merkley

A single calendar year just after the resignation of its longtime chief, Neal Benezra, the San Francisco Museum of Modern day Art on Wednesday introduced his successor, Christopher Bedford, the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Bedford, who will get started in June, has championed diversity through acquisitions to the assortment and salary increases during his tenure in Baltimore. He manufactured the controversial decision in 2020 to promote a few main functions to diversify its assortment, but reversed himself in response to issues from previous Baltimore Museum trustees and neighborhood members. In 2019, he announced that for a 12 months, the museum would only purchase get the job done by women artists.

He will come to SFMOMA at a time when the establishment is therapeutic from the tricky departure of its leading curator, Gary Garrels, in 2020 following he was accused of racism. Benezra publicly apologized and the museum has considering the fact that recognized a “Core Team” and carried out a strategic program centered on variety, fairness and inclusion.

“The SFMOMA work description struck a main chord, notably in its demand for values-based management, motivation to systemic adjust and aspirations for range, fairness and inclusion,” Bedford, 44, reported in an e mail.

“These are deeply shared concepts and commitments of my possess,” he additional. “I cannot wait to begin.”

In a letter to the employees describing its “unanimous” collection of Bedford, the look for committee said it discovered his monitor history all over diversity “exceptional,” and that this space “has been at the core of Chris’ do the job, informing all endeavors and driving systemic improve across a museum’s culture and output.”

The search committee’s letter praised Bedford’s perform as a curator on jobs these kinds of as Mark Bradford’s U.S. Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale and Mickalene Thomas’s 2019 commission for the Baltimore Museum, which transformed the museum’s two-tale East Lobby into a living home for the city, crammed with the work of regional artists. He also supported the main Joan Mitchell retrospective co-organized by the BMA and SFMOMA.

The new position is a step up for Bedford, who right until now has run a museum with an once-a-year spending budget, in 2021, of $16.9 million and a employees of 182. Its endowment, as of Dec. 31, was $197.6 million it has no deficit.

The San Francisco Museum of Fashionable Art has a spending plan of $53.4 million, a team of 360 and an endowment of $500 million it way too has no deficit, according to a spokesperson.

At a time when museums all over the nation are striving to include much more inclusivity into their programming, employing and leadership, the appointment of Bedford, a white person, is very likely to satisfy with some criticism.

But Pamela J. Joyner, a member of SFMOMA’s board who led the look for committee with the museum’s president, Diana L. Nelson, said she felt strongly that Bedford was the appropriate person for the work.

“Chris has finished the challenging get the job done and has a tested report of good results in generating a a lot more inclusive artwork record,” Joyner explained in an electronic mail concept. “Leveling the actively playing subject takes a boldness for which he is identified.”

“Though he is not a female or a man or woman of colour, and I understand how that might be an unforeseen outcome,” included Joyner, who is herself Black, “I feel he will materially endorse the visibility and finest desire of all those teams dependent on his previous overall performance.”

Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Basis, who has led the cost on range troubles, claimed he felt at ease with the choice of Bedford. “While I’m let down that a diverse candidate was not preferred,” Walker mentioned in a telephone job interview, “no museum leader is much more dedicated to variety than Chris Bedford.”

A individual near to the career research who spoke on affliction of anonymity mainly because they were being not approved to reveal its details, mentioned that the SFMOMA place was not an quick provide to candidates, supplied San Francisco’s comparatively lower-profile modern artwork scene and the tepid interest in artwork patronage amid Silicon Valley moguls. The Gagosian gallery not too long ago shut in San Francisco).

Born in Scotland and raised in the United States and England, Bedford gained his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin University and his master’s in artwork history and museum experiments through the joint program at Circumstance Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

He also analyzed in the doctoral applications in art historical past at the College of Southern California and at the Courtauld Institute of Artwork at the University of London. Prior to coming to Baltimore in 2016, Bedford served as director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis College, and ahead of that, held curatorial positions at the Wexner Centre for the Arts at Ohio Point out University, the Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

In Baltimore, Bedford has produced a standing as a disrupter, this sort of as when he declared his yearlong commitment to only purchase do the job by female artists.

“You never just acquire just one painting by a feminine artist of colour and hang it on the wall upcoming to a portray by Mark Rothko,” Bedford mentioned at the time. “To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do a little something radical.”

Some noticed the go as showmanship, arguing that woman artists ought to be acquired by museums on a typical basis, as a make a difference of program.

Equally, quite a few observed Bedford’s choice to market functions by Brice Marden, Clyfford Even now and Andy Warhol at auction — to fund acquisitions of art by individuals of color and team-huge wage boosts — as a foolhardy transfer to rating politically suitable details. Although the museum had formerly deaccessioned performs, in this situation, “Baltimore was providing masterpieces,” Arnold Lehman, a previous director of both equally the Baltimore museum and the Brooklyn Museum, said at the time.

How Bedford’s appointment will go above with SFMOMA’s workers customers stays to be noticed. Garrels, the main curator, was observed by numerous there as an objectionable consultant of the position quo following he was described to have explained in a Zoom conference, “Don’t worry, we will definitely even now continue on to gather white artists.” Amid the uproar that followed — and even with responding that his feedback have been “a small bit skewed” — Garrels resigned shortly thereafter.

Bedford claimed he designs to master from SFMOMA’s staff members and “to take time to realize the institution.”

“I know that I am not the man or woman that some may have predicted or hoped for as the selection for SFMOMA’s new director,” Bedford said. “I respect those perspectives and am coming to the place with terrific humility.

“What I can say is that I have made the related values of diversity and fairness the core of my get the job done around the past 15 a long time, from selection-setting up to exhibition-building, workers to board growth and neighborhood engagement,” he additional. “I truly feel strongly about bringing those people values and convictions to my new role at SFMOMA. This contains ensuring that a large array of voices are at the table.”

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