Veteran Guggenheim Curator Nancy Spector Has Been Cleared of Racial Bias Allegations—But She’s Leaving the Museum Anyway

The first Black curator to organize a show at the museum, Chaedria LaBouvier, brought the allegations against Spector.

Nancy Spector. Photo: Lina Bertucci, courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.
Nancy Spector. Photo: Lina Bertucci, courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

The Guggenheim Museum announced today that its longtime chief curator, Nancy Spector, is departing the museum after 34 years, and that an independent investigation has found that she did not mistreat a guest curator, Chaedria LaBouvier, based on her race.

The announcement provided little clarity into the months-long dispute, which began in June, when LaBouvier lodged complaints, including on social media, detailing what she described as racist behavior by Spector and others at the museum. “Working at the Guggenheim w/ Nancy Spector & the leadership was the most racist professional experience of my life,” LaBouvier wrote on Twitter.

LaBouvier, who became the first Black curator to organize a show at the museum with “Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story,” also argued that she should have been invited to participate in a panel about it, which Spector hosted.

As a result of LaBouvier’s allegations, the Guggenheim hired the law firm Kramer Levin to review more than 15,000 documents and conduct interviews with current and former museum employees across departments, as well as other people affiliated with the museum. The investigation found no evidence that LaBouvier was “subject to adverse treatment on the basis of her race,” the museum said.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983). Collection of Nina Clemente, New York. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar. Photo: Allison Chipak. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2019

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983). Collection of Nina Clemente, New York. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar. Photo: Allison Chipak. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2019

Asked if the findings would be made public, a spokesperson for Kramer Levin told Artnet News that it does not comment on client matters.

LaBouvier did not respond to a request for comment. In a tweet posted today, she wrote that she did not participate in the investigation and was not interviewed.

“We understand the investigators reached out to Ms. LaBouvier multiple times but she did not respond to their requests for an interview,” a spokesperson for the Guggenheim told Artnet News.

In late June, a letter sent to museum leadership from members of its curatorial department demanded action to confront what they called an “inequitable work environment that enables racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.” The letter was addressed to director Richard Armstrong, deputy director and general counsel Sarah Austrian, chief operating officer Elizabeth Duggal, and Spector. It was signed only by “The Curatorial Department,” though elsewhere in the letter it said it was written by 22 members of its 23-person curatorial team.

Spector went on leave at the beginning of July and is now permanently “leaving the Guggenheim Foundation,” the museum said in a separate statement, which included praise from Armstrong and  board members.

Chaedria Labouvier . © Patrick McMullan Photo by Thomas Evans/PatrickMcMullan.com

Chaedria Labouvier. © Patrick McMullan. Photo by Thomas Evans/PatrickMcMullan.com.

Spector said she would be pursuing new challenges, including completing her doctoral dissertation. “I am so pleased the Board of Trustees moved forward with an independent investigation that sought out the facts and confirmed what I have known from the start—which is that I did not treat the guest curator of “Basquiat’s ‘Defacement’: The Untold Story” adversely on the basis of race,” she said in a statement.

The museum declined to comment on whether there were any legal settlements involved in Spector’s departure.


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