Former Garage Museum Director Kate Fowle Takes the Helm at MoMA PS1, Replacing Klaus Biesenbach
Fowle comes to Queens by way of Moscow, where she was the founding chief curator of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.
The next director of MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York, will be British-born Kate Fowle, who is currently the director-at-large at Independent Curators International in New York and, until this past March, was the chief curator at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.
“I’m very excited about it. This is the beginning of a completely new era for me,” Fowle told artnet News. “It’s a privilege and a real honor.”
The position has been vacant since October, when Klaus Biesenbach, who had been at the museum since 1995, became director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The German-born curator succeeded museum founder Alanna Heiss, who retired in 2008, when PS1 merged with the Museum of Modern Art. Biesenbach was also the chief curator-at-large at MoMA, a position that has not yet been filled.
“Kate is a highly respected curator with a global vision and an impressive track record of success in leading major international contemporary arts organizations,” said MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry in a statement. “Her extraordinary relationships with artists, commitment to scholarship and public programs, and deep connections to New York will be important to helping MoMA PS1 continue to realize its ambitious program.”
PS1 approached Fowle after she had completed her six-year contract with the Garage. “I loved my time in Moscow, it was fantastic,” Fowle said, but “I’ve always kept a base in New York.”
Plus, she said, “I know Alanna and I know Klaus very well and they’ve always been quite supportive of me throughout my career.” Fowle even conducted a series of interviews with Heiss about her experience curating the 1993–94 PS1 exhibition “Stalin’s Choice: Soviet Socialist Realism, 1932–1956.”
Fowle joined Garage, which was founded by Russian collector Dasha Zhukhova, in 2013. As its first chief curator, she helped transform it from an art center specializing in modern and contemporary Russian art into an international museum.
Among the highlights of Fowle’s tenure were the opening of Garage’s first dedicated building, designed by Rem Koolhaas and the archtiecture firm OMA, in 2015, and founding the Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary in 2017. Her curatorial work at the museum includes projects with David Adjaye, John Baldessari, Louise Bourgeois, Urs Fischer, Rashid Johnson, Taryn Simon, Juergen Teller, and Rirkrit Tiravanija, among others.
Fowle, who turns 48 today, was also the executive director of ICI from 2009 to 2013, the inaugural international curator at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing from 2007 to 2008, and the the co-founder and chair of the Master’s program in curatorial practice at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Earlier in her career, Fowle was curator at the Towner Art Gallery and Museum in Eastbourne, East Sussex (1994–96).
Fowle says her vision for the museum, which was founded in 1971 as an alternative space for contemporary art, is still very much in the formative stages. “I’ve had a number of conversations with the team and the stakeholders at PS1, discussing different ways of thinking through the future of the museum, but at the moment what I want to do is talk to a lot more people before taking that further,” she said.
“In terms of the potential for growth, it’s understanding PS1’s legacy and that history in relation to Long Island City, which is the fastest developing neighborhood in the county,” Fowle added. “It’s actually a very interesting metaphor for what is happening in the world, and thinking about how culture can speak to larger social and political scenarios.”
Fowle joins the museum amid a citywide push for diversity in New York museums—a particularly hot-button issue in Queens, which is home to unparalleled diversity—and on the heels of a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed by curator Nikki Columbus, who accused PS1 of rescinding a job offer because she had recently given birth. (The case was settled.)
“I really don’t believe in the notion of a ‘ticking the box’ diversity,” Fowle said. “It’s absolutely fundamental. The word diversity suggests that there’s an option, ‘are you considering diversity?’ People with different experiences, different backgrounds, coming from different educations, they have to work together—that’s our only way forward.”
Fowle’s first day at the museum will be September 3.
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