Beatrix Ruf Breaks Her Silence, Says Conflict of Interest Allegations Were a ‘Misunderstanding’

The former Stedelijk director denies her advisory business posed a conflict of interest.

Beatrix Ruf. Photo: Michael Stewart/Getty Images.

Three weeks after resigning from her position as director of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum following a series of reports in the Dutch daily NRC about alleged ethical violations, Beatrix Ruf has broken her silence in an exclusive interview with the New York Times.

Speaking to the Times, the former director called the furor surrounding her unexpected departure a “misunderstanding,” insisting that her one-woman art advisory firm was “contractually approved by the Stedelijk” prior to her appointment in 2014, and that her additional income primarily reflected payments for services completed before she started the job. (Ruf’s answers to the Times were written by email and vetted by her lawyers.)

According to NRC, Ruf advised private clients during her tenure as director and disclosed that her advisory firm Currentmatters reported almost $500,000 in earnings in 2015. Her annual salary at the Stedelijk was about $130,000. The revelations raised questions about whether her side activities posed a conflict of interest with her museum work, for which she is expected to make unbiased judgements about the importance and value of artists and exhibitions.

“I am confident that I reported everything in good faith,” Ruf told the NYT. According to the Stedelijk’s most recent annual report, the former director was permitted by the museum’s board to perform 18 “additional functions,” including sitting on the jury of international art prizes, serving on the boards of institutions in Moscow, Rome, Vienna, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, as well as advising Goldman Sachs’s London-based corporate collection.

Ruf also claimed that the $500,000 in earnings that Currentmatters reported to Dutch tax authorities in 2015 was misinterpreted. The bulk of that money, she said, came from a $1 million bonus payment from a former client, the Swiss collector Michael Ringier, which was structured to be paid out in installments over several years.

“Many people wrongly assumed these profits came from side activities conducted in 2015 while I was artistic director of the Stedelijk Museum,” she said. “In fact, this profit statement reflects legitimate income from activities conducted before 2015, primarily a parting bonus for past work from the Ringier Collection in the amount of 1 million Swiss Francs ($1 million).”

Ruf said that her actual income from “approved side activities” in 2015 and 2016 totaled about $120,000 per year, bringing her cumulative personal income from those activities, Ringier’s bonus installments, and her salary from the museum to approximately €378,000 ($440,000) in 2015.

Meanwhile, Ruf’s cumulative personal income for 2016 was €628,000 ($730,000), according to an income declaration released today (and reported yesterday by the Times). It’s unclear why this figure is substantially higher than her 2015 income.

The former director’s assertions were corroborated by Ringier, who confirmed that the $1 million bonus payment was a “thank-you gift” for a 20-year working relationship that ended in December 2014.

After stepping down in October, Ruf said her resignation was “in the interest of the museum, considering the speculations in the media in recent weeks, which may have an impact on the reputation of the museum.”

The acting chairwoman of the Stedelijk’s board told the Times that it has begun two independent investigations and declined to speak to the press while they are underway.

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