Leading Curators Pen an Open Letter in Support of Departing Queens Museum Director
Signatories include Helen Molesworth, Jamillah James, and Mary Ceruti.
More than 30 prominent museum leaders, curators, and art-world figures have signed an open letter in support of Laura Raicovich, the outgoing director of the Queens Museum. Last week, Raicovich—an outspoken advocate for progressive causes—announced plans to step down from her post, telling the New York Times that her “vision and that of the board weren’t in enough alignment.”
In a letter dated January 30, museum luminaries praised Raicovich’s example and said that the sector could learn much from her unwavering drive to connect art to the wider world.
Raicovich, they wrote, “has galvanized the museum field: she has demonstrated how cultural institutions can responsibly and creatively embrace artistic as well as social and political matters crucial to their local constituencies while contributing to the field at large.”
They say that it is “not simply a right but an obligation” for institutions that receive public funds to respond to pressing issues facing their communities. “We call on the boards of our cultural institutions to embrace the civic role of our institutions by supporting and empowering courageous and caring leaders such as Laura Raicovich, regardless of their gender.”
The letter was signed by Helen Molesworth, the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the art historian Lucy Lippard; Mary Ceruti, the director of SculptureCenter in Long Island City; and Anne Ellegood, a curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, among others. The initiative was spearheaded by Carin Kuoni, the director of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School.
Kuoni, who has followed Raicovich’s work for years, began approaching potential signatories soon after news of her departure broke. The idea was to “really look at the network of people who have been shaped by her work,” she told artnet News.
They opted to send the letter to the New York Times rather than the museum’s board. (“I am skeptical of the impact it might have if sent to the board,” Kuoni said.) Rather than an indictment of the Queens Museum’s leadership, however, the letter is intended as “a call to wake up—a call to all boards to pay attention to what the field wants and needs to see.”
During her three-year run at the Queens Museum, Raicovich was an outspoken opponent of President Trump’s immigration policy, which had a direct impact on her audience. (An estimated one-half of Queens’s population was born in another country.) But some of her decisions provoked the ire of the museum’s leadership. The Queens Museum was the only major New York museum to close on January 20, 2017 as part of a progressive “art strike” in protest of Trump’s inauguration. This summer, two city officials called for her to be fired after the museum canceled (and then reinstated) an event organized by Israel’s UN ambassador.
Asked for comment on the letter, Mark Coleman, the chairman of the Queens Museum, said in a statement: “Laura Raicovich has resigned as the President and Executive Director of the Queens Museum. Laura brought a vitality and dynamism to her work, and was fearless in exploring new ideas and perspectives through art. Over the last three years, she produced several popular and critically acclaimed exhibitions and doubled the Museum’s fundraising capacity. The Board of Trustees will immediately begin an international search for a successor.”
Kuoni said she felt compelled to publicly gather support for Raicovich at a time when “non-engagement with the political has consequences that, for many of us, are very regrettable.” Although Raicovich resigned (rather than being asked to leave), “clearly the situation had become untenable,” Kuoni said. “I think in the end that’s a technicality.”
Read the full text of the letter below.
Open Letter on the Resignation of Laura Raicovich from the Queens Museum
Laura Raicovich, as president and executive director of the Queens Museum, has galvanized the museum field: she has demonstrated how cultural institutions can responsibly and creatively embrace artistic as well as social and political matters crucial to their local constituencies while contributing to the field at large. We have been inspired by her work with art, artists, and communities relating to important cultural issues such as immigration, cultural diversity, education, and equity. The example she set will continue to inform our own work.
We are writing to affirm the leadership role of cultural institutions in advancing cultural and social as well as political public discourse. As stewards and advocates of contemporary and historical cultural expressions, we directors, curators, and staff members of cultural institutions, as well as the board members to whom we are accountable, have a particular obligation to facilitate the free and safe exchange of ideas about our contemporary world with art as the catalyst.
In times of political polarization, arts institutions must fully commit to our responsibility to act as empathetic forums in which we come to understand human history, creativity and society. Art institutions must respond to pressing issues facing our communities — this is not simply a right but an obligation, especially for those supported by public funds.
We call on the boards of our cultural institutions to embrace the civic role of our institutions by supporting and empowering courageous and caring leaders such as Laura Raicovich, regardless of their gender. This is more necessary now than at any other point since the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s.
Chloë Bass, Social Practice Queens
Omar Berrada, Curator and Director, Dar al-Ma’mûn, Marrakech, Morocco
Rashida Bumbray, Open Society Foundations
Harry Burke, Artists Space
Gonzalo Casals, Executive Director, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Mary Ceruti, Executive Director and Chief Curator, SculptureCenter
Ken Chen, Executive Director, Asian American Writers’ Workshop
Charles Esche, Director, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Deborah Fisher, Executive Director, A Blade of Grass
Lynn Gumpert, Director, Grey Art Gallery, New York University
Jamillah James, Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Carin Kuoni, Director/Chief Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School
Lydia Matthews, Director, Parsons Curatorial Design Research Lab, The New School
Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator, MOCA, Los Angeles
Amanda Parmer, Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics
Sheetal Prajapati, Director of Public Engagement, Pioneer Works
Laurel Ptak, Executive Director & Curator, Art in General
Silvia Rocciolo, Curator, The New School Art Collection
Jay Sanders, Artists Space
Lucía Sanromán, Director of Visual Arts, Yerba Buena Center of the Arts
Paul Schmelzer, Managing Editor, Walker Art Center
Gregory Sholette, Social Practice Queens
Joshua Simon, former Director and Chief Curator, MoBY Museums of Bat Yam, Israel
Marvin J. Taylor, Fales Library, New York University
Joanna Warsza, Artistic Director, Public Art Munich 2018, Germany
Martha Wilson, Founding Director, Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.
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